updated 1/25/2009 9:43:44 AM ET 2009-01-25T14:43:44

A small ferry overloaded with passengers sank in central Vietnam on Sunday, killing at least 40 people including seven girls and 27 women.

The 40 bodies, including those of three pregnant women, were recovered from the Gianh river in Quang Binh province, about 315 miles south of Hanoi, provincial police chief Phan Thanh Ha said.

Rescuers were still searching for two others missing, he said. Thirty-six passengers were rescued.

Ha said they initially thought another four people were missing, but that turned out not to be the case.

"This is one of the worst ferry accidents in Vietnam," Ha said.

Boat overloaded
An initial investigation showed the boat was overloaded with nearly 80 people, even though it was designed to carry 12, he said.

The boat's owner and captain were detained for questioning, he said.

The people from Quang Hai village were crossing the river to buy things for their Lunar New Year festivities, the country's biggest holiday, which begins Monday.

They were only 65 feet away from the river bank when the accident happened, Ha said.

"It's a tragedy for the province," said Phan Lam Phuong, the governor of Quang Binh. "It should have been time to celebrate the Lunar New Year."

He said the provincial government has decided to cancel a Lunar New Year fireworks show.

He said authorities will give 10 million dong ($600) to the families of each victim.

More on Vietnam

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