14 Mar 2015 at 13:33
YANGON — A crowded double-decker passenger ferry capsized in northwestern Myanmar after being slammed by huge waves, killing 33 people and leaving at least a dozen missing, officials said on Saturday.
"The latest death toll is 33 — four men including a monk and 29 women. At least 12 persons are still missing," a police officer in Sittwe town told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He added that 169 people had been rescued, and that no foreigners were believed to have been on board the ship.
"We suspect that the boat sank because it was overloaded with goods," the officer said, adding that the ship was listed as carrying 214 passengers and crew. Sources said it was carrying 129 tonnes of cargo.
Local residents said they feared the ferry was packed with many unregistered ticket holders who would not have shown up on the ship's manifest, a common practice on the often overcrowded ferry network.
"We don't know how many are still missing because some people were on board without official tickets," Hla Shwe, a resident of Ngaputhone village, a few kilometres from where the ship went down, told AFP by telephone.
"There are many dead bodies which didn't appear yet," local MP Maung Lone added, also by telephone. "We estimate about 300 people were on board."
Three navy boats and a host of private vessels were sent to scour the area after news emerged that the ferry had sunk shortly after 8.30 pm Friday.
Many Myanmar citizens living along the country's lengthy coastline and flood-prone river systems rely heavily on poorly-maintained ferries for transport.
Sinkings are not uncommon. Ten people were killed in 2010 when a ferry capsized in the Irrawaddy delta region, while 38 perished in 2008 when a ship went down in the Yway River.
Local residents said the area where the Aung Takon 3 capsized was notorious for its treacherous waters.
"The tide there is very strong and the sea very rough. Fishing boats have often sunk in that area many times before," Sittwe town resident Thein Zaw told AFP.