A small ferry overloaded with holiday shoppers sank in Central Vietnam on Sunday, killing at least 40 people ahead of the traditional Lunar New Year, according to published reports.
At least 36 passengers survived, a few by swimming to shore and others plucked by rescuers from the Gianh river in Quang Binh province, local police chief Phan Thanh Ha said.
The boat’s owner and captain were detained for questioning, Ha said. An initial investigation showed the wooden boat was overloaded with nearly 80 people, though it was designed to carry only 12.
Searchers recovered 40 bodies, including 27 women – three of whom were pregnant – and seven children, he said.
The people from Quang Hai village were crossing the river to buy things for the Lunar New Year festivities. Known as Tet in Viet Nam, the New Year is the country’s biggest holiday and begins Monday.
It’s a tragedy for the province,” said Phan Lam Phuong, the governor of Quang Binh, about 315 miles south of Hanoi. “It should have been time to celebrate Tet.”
The provincial government has decided to cancel a planned Lunar New Year fireworks show, the governor said, adding authorities will give 10 million dong ($600) to the families of each victim.
The boat was only 65 feet (20 meters) away from the riverbank when it began to take on water, apparently from the weight of too many passengers, Ha said.
Some of the passengers got up in a panic and the boat tilted to take on even more water, quickly sinking, he said.
“This is one of the worst ferry accidents in Vietnam,” Ha said.
Vietnam is crisscrossed by hundreds of rivers and streams, but many of them have no bridges, forcing villagers to rely on small boats to ferry them across. Dozens of Vietnamese drown each year in boat accidents.