msnbc.com news services
updated 11/4/2005 11:13:53 AM ET 2005-11-04T16:13:53

A ferry overloaded with people heading to a memorial for three drowned boaters capsized on Friday in the Arabian Sea off southern Pakistan, killing about 60 people, officials said.

Five people who managed to swim to shore notified authorities, said Mohammed Ali Shah, chairman of the Fisher Folk Forum, a charity that works for the welfare of fishermen and their families.

"According to our information, 60 people have been killed," a navy spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Salman Ali, said of the ferry accident.

Ali said rescue teams had recovered 23 bodies. Shah, however, said as many as 80 people may have been on board the ferry when it sank.

"Divers from the Pakistan navy are looking for the bodies, but so far we only know that about 60 people have drowned," Ali said.

The victims were going to a remote coastal town to express their condolences to relatives of three people who died earlier this week in a separate boat accident, Shah said.

The ferry sank in a coastal creek near the town of Keti Bandar, in Thatta district, which is at the mouth of the Indus River, about 45 miles southeast of Karachi, Ali said.

"We have sent our diving and rescue teams to the area," he said.

The cause was being investigated but it was thought the vessel was overloaded.

"At the moment we feel the boat was overloaded and they failed to take required precautionary measures," said provincial government spokesman Salahuddin Haider.

Bachal Sanghari, a senior regional police officer, said the passengers included women and children from two families who were going to a nearby village to offer condolences over a death.

The disaster coincided with the Eid al-Fitr holiday, normally a joyous occasion following the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and will add to the somber mood after the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country's northern mountains and killed more than 73,000 people on Oct. 8.

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