Dhaka: At least 150 passengers were missing after a ferry carrying around 300 people capsized in a river in central Bangladesh after a head-on collision with an oil tanker, officials said.

While 50 people swam to safety following the mishap in the early hours of the morning, confusion prevailed over the fate of the rest of the passengers as well as over their numbers.

"Fifty passengers swam ashore or were rescued by nearby fishing boats and two other launches. we fear 150 passengers are missing," president of Inland Waterways Passenger Career Association, Badiuzzaman Badal said.

The tragedy occurred at suburban Munshiganj area on the Meghna River after the ferry collided head-on with a tanker carrying oil, officials and witnesses said.

He said the double-deck MV Shariatpur-1 was coming to Dhaka's Sadarghat Terminal from western Shariatpur when it collided with the oil tanker and sank at about 3 am in Tuesday  morning.

"I saw people floating on the water... we salvaged several of them," the master of another ferry that joined the instant rescue operation told a television channel.

Officials reached here by phone said fire service divers so far retrieved seven bodies while paramilitary coastguard joined the search campaign for the missing people that included children.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) officials said a salvage vessel reached the scene and located ferry 70 feet under the water in the mid of the river.

"The launch (ferry) sank quickly as the oil tanker hit it . At least 30 minor children were travelling in the launch along with their parents," a surviver told a TV channel. Officials said the exact number of the passengers could not be confirmed as the ferry did not maintain a register but the numbers were anywhere close to 300.

There was also no certainty yet over the numbers of people missing following the tragedy.

They said most of the passengers were residents of Shariatpur who were coming to the capital for work-related issues.

Quoting relatives, an official of Shariatpur district administration said three of the missing people were Bangladesh-born US nationals who were returning to the United States after visiting their home village.

Television footages showed anxious people, including relatives of the missing passengers, on both sides of the river waiting for some news on the survivors, as coastguard and fire service divers tried to find the missing passengers.

(Agencies)