Rescue workers have salvaged 41 bodies, mainly of women and children, who drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Binh on Sunday, a local official said Monday.
Tran Manh Ho, the communist party chief of Quang Hai Commune, where most of the victims are from, said one person in the commune are still missing and is feared drowned in the accident on the Gianh River.
The accident, which happened one day before Vietnam's most important and biggest festival - Tet (Lunar New Year) - has shocked the nation.
Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung have sent condolences to victims' families. They have also directed government agencies to continue with search and rescue efforts and provide relief.
Quang Binh Province canceled the fireworks display planned to welcome the Lunar New Year as it mourned the loss of its residents' lives in the accident.
Thirty-five passengers were rescued or managed to swim to safety in the accident.
Witnesses said about 70 passengers were on board at the time of the accident, but there have been no official figures. The Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted some witnesses as saying the boat also carried some bicycles and a cow.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Tran Minh Thuy, head of Quang Binh provincial traffic police, said the vessel's approved capacity was just 12 people. The Tuoi Tre newspaper had earlier quoted Colonel Nguyen Quoc Tri, head of the Quang Binh Military Command, as saying the boat's capacity was about 40 people.
PM Dung has asked the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of Transport and the provincial administration to step up investigations into the cause of the accident and strengthen patrols along waterways to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Local police have detained Nguyen Quy, a co-owner of the boat, for investigation. Quy's brother, Nguyen Mau, the other owner, has not been arrested because he had to conduct the funeral of his wife, who also died in the accident.
The accident happened at roughly 6:30 am with many passengers boarding the boat to get to a market on the north side of the river for doing their Tet shopping.