More than 70 Hindu devotees travelling to a centuries-old temple were on the vessel which suddenly tipped over and sank in the middle of the Karotoa river in northern Bangladesh.

Dozens of people watching from the shore around 20 metres away started shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at the time.
Dozens of people watching from the shore around 20 metres away started shouting and screaming. The weather was calm at the time. (AP Archive)

At least 24 people have been killed and dozens more missing after a boat packed with Hindu devotees sank in Bangladesh, in the worst waterways disaster to hit the country in more than a year.

The bodies recovered so far included 12 women and eight children, said Jahurul Islam, district administrator of northern Panchagarh, where the accident occurred on Sunday.

"The rescue operation for those missing is ongoing," he said. The ferry was taking devotees to a Hindu temple. 

Islam said he did not know the exact number of people missing, but passengers said more than 70 people had been on board.

Police said some 30 people were still missing while some of the passengers managed to swim ashore. Local media said at least 10 people had been rescued and sent to hospital.

READ MORE: Dozens dead in Bangladesh ferry fire

String of similar tragedies

Thousands of Hindus in Muslim-majority Bangladesh visit the Bodeshwari Temple every year.

Sunday marked the start of Durga Puja, the biggest Hindu festival in Bangladesh — and also eastern India — drawing large crowds at the temple.

The incident was the latest in a string of similar tragedies in the low-lying delta country which is criss-crossed by rivers.

Experts in the South Asian nation of 170 million people blame poor maintenance, lax safety standards at shipyards and overcrowding for the accidents. 

Last December more than 40 people perished when a packed three-storey ferry caught fire in the south of the country.

READ MORE: Boat accident in Bangladesh leaves over two dozen dead

Source: Reuters