Dhaka -

A heavily-laden ferry capsized and sank in central Bangladesh on Thursday after being caught in a storm, leaving at least six dead and hundreds more missing, police and officials said.

“We are receiving confusing figures on how many passengers were on board when it sank, but the number could range from 200 to 350,” district government administrator Saiful Hasan told AFP.

“Six bodies have been recovered so far,” he said of the accident on the river Meghna in Munshiganj district, about 50 kilometres south of the capital Dhaka.

Local police chief Ferdous Ahmed also confirmed the recovery of the six bodies, including those of women and children.

The vessel was travelling to the southern district of Shariatpur from Dhaka when it encountered problems and sank in the mid-afternoon.

“The ferry is completely under water. We are now trying to locate it,” Ahmed said, adding that a salvage vessel and fire service divers were headed to the spot from the capital.

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed with more than 230 rivers. Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Storms known locally as Kalboishakhi often hit Bangladesh during the early summer months in the lead-up to the monsoon, which generally begins in the first week of June. - Sapa-AFP