MUNSHIGANJ, Bangladesh (AP) — Rescuers have recovered at least 29 bodies a day after a ferry capsized in a river during a storm in central Bangladesh and police estimate at least 100 others were missing, officials said Friday.
Exactly how many people were on board wasn't clear because the ferry operators did not maintain a passenger list, a local administrator, Saiful Hasan, said.
A salvage ship failed to pull out the ferry as strong currents in the 18-meters- (60-feet-) deep water brought huge volumes of sand, which was covering the vessel.
Officials said the ferry was apparently overcrowded and its lower deck was loaded with goods, said Mohammad Ali, a director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority.
An investigation has been ordered to look into if the vessel was overcrowded and if it had any design fault, Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan said.
Ali said the death toll could be higher as officials suspected many passengers were trapped in the lower deck when the vessel sank.
Sabuj, a passenger who jumped overboard when the ship began to sink, said he was among some 25 people who managed to swim to safety.
He said the captain of the double-decker ferry ignored the passengers' calls to stay close to the shore as the storm started brewing.
"But he continued to steer the ship" out into the water, said Sabuj, who uses one name.
Relatives of the missing and the dead were gathering near the Meghna River, near where the boat capsized Thursday afternoon in Munshiganj district. Television coverage showed recovered bodies, covered in cloth, on the banks of the river.
Many of the family members of the missing were using country boats to scour the river in search of their dear ones, and an official used a loudspeaker to ask the relatives to move away from the accident site to help continue the search.
Many relatives expressed their frustration over slow-moving rescue effort.
"I came here yesterday for my brother but I don't have any trace yet. Nobody can assure me of anything," said Lokman Hossain as he sobbed.
"Won't I get my brother back? Oh brother, please come back," he wailed.
Officials said they were trying to locate the crew of the ferry, and said probably they left the area immediately after the accident.
"We are looking for them," said Ferdous Ahmed, local police chief.
Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation crisscrossed by more than 230 rivers, because of overcrowding, faulty vessels and lax rules.
In 2012, at least 150 people died in the same district when a ferry carrying about 200 people capsized at night.