MUNSHIGANJ, Bangladesh – Rescuers have recovered 54 bodies from a ferry that sank in a river during a storm in central Bangladesh, resuming their search Saturday after protests by relatives of people missing in the disaster.
Officials said that 12 people were still unaccounted for, although there has been confusion over how many were aboard the ferry M.V. Miraz-4 when it sank Thursday in the River Meghna.
Earlier Saturday, authorities called the search off after retrieving 40 bodies, but hundreds of relatives and local residents protested at the scene of the accident in Munshiganj district, forcing authorities to announce that they would continue to look for bodies.
"I haven't got my brother, where is he? Why do authorities stop searching?" asked Mohammad Moniruzzaman.
By late Saturday afternoon, a total of 54 bodies had been recovered, said Shamsuddoha Khandaker, chief of Bangladesh's water transport authority.
"We will continue our search," he said. "We have towed the ferry to the shore, but we will continue to search for bodies in the waters."
There has been confusion over how many passengers were on board the sunken vessel. Ferry operators in Bangladesh usually do not maintain a list of passengers, and none was available in Thursday's disaster, said local administrator Saiful Hasan.
Before 11 more bodies were recovered after the search resumed Saturday, police had estimated that at least 100 people were still missing.
Rescue diver Masudul Haque said Friday evening that many bodies were still trapped in cabin rooms.
"We have recovered the bodies mainly from the lower deck and other open spaces, but could not open the doors of the cabin rooms where many passengers took shelter after the storm had hit," Haque said. "I tried to open those doors but could not as huge volumes of sand have buried many of the doors."
Relatives of the missing and the dead have been gathering since Thursday on the banks the Meghna River, near where the boat capsized. Several bodies, covered in cloth, were laid out on the ground on Saturday.
"I came here yesterday for my brother, but I don't have any trace yet. Nobody can assure me of anything," said a sobbing relative, Lokman Hossain.
Sabuj, a passenger who jumped overboard when the ship began to sink, said he was among about 25 survivors who swam to shore. 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.
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. Officials were investigating whether the vessel was overcrowded or had design faults.
Ferries are a common mode of transportation in this populous delta nation, and the Meghna River has been the scene of past accidents. In 2012, at least 150 people died when a ferry carrying about 200 people capsized at night in the river.
In 2003, an overcrowded ferry capsized in flood-swollen waters at the confluence of the Padma, Meghna and Dakatia rivers near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. Up to 400 people died.