DHAKA - An overloaded fishing boat carrying migrants to Malaysia sank in strong currents off the coast of Bangladesh on Thursday and 24 passengers are missing, police said.
Emergency workers rescued 32 Bangladeshis in the Bay of Bengal after the boat capsized some 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) offshore, but others are still unaccounted for, police said.
"Around two dozen people are still missing. The coast guard and police are continuing their rescue operation," local police chief Masud Alam said.
"The rescued passengers told us that the boat had up to 60 people aboard," Alam told AFP.
"All the passengers are Bangladeshi and they were heading to Malaysia by sea illegally."
Estimates varied on the total number of passengers, with private TV station Somoy saying 100 had been on board when it sank near the Bangladeshi island of Kutubdia.
The boat hit strong currents shortly after leaving a coastal town near the southern port city of Chittagong, Alam said.
Thousands of poor Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar try to migrate to Malaysia every year on a perilous and sometimes fatal 3,200-kilometre (2,000-mile) journey.
Rights groups say thousands have perished along the way, while thousands more have fallen into the hands of people-traffickers.
Bangladesh's coastguard and border forces have launched crackdowns on economic migrants, confiscating their ships and arresting a number of human traffickers. But there has been no noticeable impact.
The migrants are illegal because they do not travel with the proper visas and attempt to enter Malaysia without notifying authorities.
Ferry and other boating accidents are common in Bangladesh. Officials have said more than 95 per cent of the country's hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.