Stuck in thick fog, one of the two naval firefighting ships in the southern region failed to navigate towards MV Abhijan-10, the Barguna-bound launch which was burning on the Sugandha River in Jhalakathi.
Passengers and villagers waited for its arrival. The vessel was at Nalchity, only ten kilometres away from the spot.
The firefighting ship reached the scene in the morning when the fire had already subsided, claiming at least 42 lives on the launch.
According to the fire fighters, the ship lacks a modern system to operate on the river in foggy weather.
Hundreds of passengers were screaming for help when the fire started on the ill fated passenger launch. Several passengers called the national emergency service number 999 to rescue them but to no avail.
The fire started around 3am and was under control only around 7am. The incident site was only two kilometres away from the local police station and the Jhalakathi Sadar Fire Service Defense Station but fire fighters reached the passengers around 5:30am.
"The launch was burning for hours in the middle of the river and screams of the passengers faded into the cold wind leaving us feeling helpless that we couldn't stop the fire," said the villagers.
Upon reaching the scene, the firefighters went to the launch ghat but they didn't have proper modern equipment to deal with the fire.
Sobuj, a survivor of the tragic accident, said he and his mother jumped into the river while the fire was moving towards the front of the vessel.
Both Sobuj and his mother swam ashore at Diakul village where the launch was later anchored.
"I reached the river bank around 3.30am and found the launch burning. I boarded a trawler with our local ward councillor, taking some other trawlers along to rescue the passengers. Firemen were yet to reach the scene." said Mamun, of Jhalakathi town.
According to locals, firemen reached the launch around 5.30am and waited for the naval firefighting ship which was stuck in fog.
However, once there, the firemen started to douse the fire, spraying water with a water pump from a trawler. They first had to arrange a trawler to get near the launch which took a long time, according to information from Jhalakathi fire station.
"If we had a firefighting ship, we could have brought the fire under control faster," said a fireman of the rescue operation seeking anonymity and added that they also felt helpless without proper modern facilities.
"In Barishal there is only one naval fire unit which is not enough to support the vast riverine areas where hundreds of water vessels run every day," said Dibosh Talukder, a local Jhalakathi reporter who reached the spot around 3.30 am.
Another firefighting gunship is stationed at Patuakhali, said Mohammad Kobad Ali Sarker, additional director of Fire Service and Civil Defence in Barishal.
Mostafizur Rahman, deputy director (port) at the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, said that the total waterways route in the Barishal region is 1200km, the largest in the country.
Recently four men were killed by a separate fire accident on an oil tanker at the same site. In another incident, around six months ago, a bus was fully burnt, crossing the river on a ferry on the Bhola-Barishal route.
"A naval fire defence unit should be established in Jhalakathi as soon as possible as many vessels cross Gablhan Channel regularly with lots of goods," says Chitta Ranjon Datta, president of Jhalakathi Press Club.