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By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA (Reuters) - Authorities in Bangladesh investigating the sinking of a ferry with nearly 250 people on board have lodged murder charges against the owner and five others, including the captain, taking an unprecedented step in a country where such disasters are all too common.
The ferry, the MV Pinak-6, went down on Monday in a river swelled by monsoon rains about 30 km (18 miles) southwest of the capital, Dhaka, on Monday.
By early Wednesday, rescuers battling strong currents and choppy waves on the Padma river had given up hope of finding alive many of the 133 people still missing, officials in Munshiganj district said.
There were 110 survivors, and seven bodies had been found.
Police were seeking the captain, who was among the survivors, the owner and four others to answer the case brought against them.
They are accused of murder by the inspector of the state-run Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA). The agency has accused them of overloading passengers, plying ferry with an expired license, and disregarding instructions not to sail by the river authority due to bad weather conditions.
"Police are trying to arrest them, but they all went into hiding," said Mohammad Saiful Hasan Badal, deputy commissioner of the Munshiganj district, where the ferry went down.
"If charges are proved then they might get capital punishment, since the case has been filed as a murder case."
Low-lying Bangladesh, with extensive inland waterways and slack safety standards, has an appalling record of ferry accidents, with casualties sometimes running into the hundreds.
This is the first time in Bangladesh that a murder case has been filed against any ferry owner or crew for violating safety rules.
Committees of inquiry have been established after past sinkings, and they have made recommendations for changes in regulations, but overcrowding remains a common factor in such accidents.
The ill-fated Pinak had a capacity to carry 85 passengers, according to the inland transport authority.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)