May 11, 2008 / 12:06 PM / 11 years ago

Boat sinks with first Red Cross aid for Myanmar

A survivor prays at the Mid-River Pagoda after Cyclone Nargis hit a village in Kyauktan, southeast of Yangon May 11, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A cargo boat carrying the first Red Cross aid to survivors of Cyclone Nargis sank on Sunday, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said, dealing a blow to an already stumbling relief effort.

The boat carrying relief supplies for more than 1,000 people was believed to have hit a submerged tree trunk in the Irrawaddy Delta and started taking on water, an IFRC official in Bangkok, Andy McElroy said.

The accident highlighted the enormous logistical difficulties of delivering aid to the estimated 1.5 million cyclone survivors in need of food, shelter and medicine, with roads washed away and much of the delta turned to swampland.

The reclusive military government has thrown up other obstacles on top of that, saying it will accept foreign aid but not the foreign logistics teams needed to transport the aid into the inundated delta.

The crew steered the stricken Red Cross boat to an island but it sank rapidly, McElroy said. All crew members and the four Myanmar Red Cross personnel on board, two men and two women, scrambled to safety.

“This is a great loss for the Myanmar Red Cross and for the people who need aid so urgently”, Aung Kyaw Htut, the Myanmar Red Cross aid distribution team leader, said in a statement. “This would have been our very first river shipment and it will delay aid for a further day.”

The double-decker river boat was travelling from Yangon to Bogalay, some 12 hours sailing time, when it sank near Myinka Gone village. It was carrying rice, drinking water, water purification tablets, jerry cans, stretchers, clothes, family utensil kits, soap, rubber gloves and surgical masks.

The boat sank early in the morning near Bogalay, a town extensively damaged by the cyclone and where 260,000 people out of a total population of 350,000 are thought to have been affected. Almost 10,000 are reported dead or missing in Bogalay.

The government’s official death toll stands at 23,350 dead and 37,019 missing from the May 2 cyclone, though disaster experts put the toll at 100,000 or more.

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