Eighteen people, 15 women and 3 girl children, were drowned and many were missing when an overcrowded trawler carrying about 100 pilgrims capsized in Hoogly river at Talpatti island in East Midnapore district on Saturday.
The area is near the Bay of Bengal and there are strong currents in the river. Nilanjan Shandilya, South 24 Parganas additional district magistrate (revenue), said 45 people have been rescued so far.
One of the rescued is a girl of about nine years who was floating in the water. He said the trawler overloaded with pilgrims was returning to Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas from Hijli Sharif, opposite Sagar Island, in East Midnapore district when it capsized during the day.
The trawler was among three returning from Hijli Sharif. Five bodies have been identified so far and all of them hailed from Kakdwip.
The boatsmen of the ill-fated boat are yet to be traced. Rescue operations were carried out by the Navy, Coastguard, Natioanl Disaster Rescue Force and Civil Defence, he said.
Those rescued were rushed to Kakdwip block hospital, he said. The rescue operations has been called off for the night, District Magistrate N S Nigam said adding the help of army helicopters would be sought on Sunday.
Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting C M Jatua, West Bengal Sundarbans Development Minister Kanti Ganguly, Zilla Parishad chief Shamima Sheikh and Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay rushed to Kakdwip to oversee rescue operations.
Sheikh declared a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the families of each of the victims.