The ship caught fire around 3 a.m. on Friday, a few hours after leaving Dhaka for Barguna. Firefighters and civil defense fought the blaze for three hours into the early morning after the captain docked it on the bank of the Sugandha River.
Passengers jumped off the launch to survive. Those captured inside, most of them children and the elderly, were burned to death. Rescuers removed at least 37 bodies as the frantic search continued throughout the day.
The death toll is expected to rise with at least 72 burn victims admitted to hospitals. Some of them are in critical condition, according to doctors.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze, the charred effects of passengers and equipment to decorate the ship lay on the decks and cabins. Metal objects bent under the impact of heat.
“The engine room was on fire even at 6 am. The launch could not be touched due to the heat. We sprayed water and slowly moved inside. It appeared that someone had poured gasoline and set the boat on fire, ”said Md Belal Hossain, deputy director of the fire department.
He added that he had seen many small fires during launches, but never anything like the one in Abhijan-10.
A midnight fire swept through the launch of the MV Abhijan-10 bound for Barguna on the Sugandha River in the southern district of Jhalakathi on Friday, December 24, 2021.
Zobair Ibn Awal, associate professor in the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at BUET, said there was no example of such a devastating fire on a passenger launch in Bangladeshi history, although several smaller.
Minister of State for Navigation Khalid Mahmud, who rushed to the scene in the morning, called the incident “mysterious”.
“Such a rapid spread of the fire struck me as unusual. We have never seen a fire spread so quickly. It’s confusing. Many people say that time has been wasted. Let’s see what the surveys find.
The ministry formed a committee of seven to investigate the blaze. The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has also launched a separate investigation.
Numerous survivors, crew members and first responders indicated that the engine room was the source of the fire.
Shafiqul Islam, an officer at the Jhalakathi fire station, said the engine room was the most burnt down, so they believe the fire started there.
Abdur Rahim, who survived the incident, said he was on the bridge when he suddenly heard a loud noise. Smoke started to rise from the rear of the launch and within moments the whole ship was on fire, he said.
Fire service personnel collect the bodies of the victims after a fire swept through the launch of the MV Abhijan-10 bound for Barguna on the Sugandha River in the southern Jhalakathi district on Friday, December 24, 2021.
Hamjalal Sheikh, the owner of the speedboat, said a member of the crew called him and informed him of the fire at 3:05 a.m. An explosion was heard on the second floor, where a pipe from the engine is located, he added.
Some of the survivors said that problems occurred in the engines immediately after the start of the Dhaka launch and that technicians tried to fix the problem on several occasions. Passenger Md Abdullah said crew members fled after the fire started.
The owner denied any problems with the engines. He said two refurbished Daihatsu engines were installed recently at launch, saying 6,000 liters of oil caused the most engine room burns.
A cabin boy blamed the explosion of a gas cylinder at a restaurant aboard the speedboat, according to a report, but Md Kamal Hossain, Barishal’s divisional fire chief, excluded it, saying he had saw the bottles unharmed.
A view of the MV Abhijan-10 moored on the bank of the Sugandha River at Diyakul in Jhalakathi on Friday, December 24, 2021 after the launch caught fire in the early hours. Photo: Hasibul Islam Hassan
Brigadier General Sajjad Hossain, director general of the fire department, said investigations would determine whether the explosion occurred before or after the start of the blaze.
“We initially suspect the fire started in the engine room.”
The general manager of a passenger launch company said that most of the time, operators use reusable engines and change parts as needed.
BUET Associate Professor Zobair also said engine overhaul is a routine job, but problems can arise if not done correctly.
And observers are needed because the oil is coming down from the engines all the time, he said. “The duty of the observer is very important, because devastation can arise from trifles
neglect, like throwing out a cigarette butt.
Owner Hamjalal claimed that an engine driver and two other crew members were still working in the engine room.
The bodies of passengers recovered from the MV Abhijan-10 launch lay on the bank of the Sugandha River on Friday, December 24, awaiting identification. Photo: Hasibul Islam Hassan
Zobair said he saw dark spots inside the launch in the photos, meaning there was a lot of flammable stuff inside the ship.
“Lunches are decorated with flammable materials, cardboard boxes. Passengers also carried flammable materials, such as blankets and winter clothing. “
“The intensity of the fire indicates that there was something flammable which helped the fire to spread rapidly.”
Badiuzzaman Badal, an executive of the Launch Owners Association, said Abhijan-2 was repainted two months ago. New decorative materials have also been added.
“The use of wood and gum in the decoration could have intensified the fire.”