40 dead as Bangladesh ferry search called off

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Photo - A Bangladeshi man mourns for his missing brother, as rescuers continue to search the site of a ferry that sank, on the banks of the River Meghna in Munshiganj district, in Bangladesh, Friday, May 16, 2014. Rescuers have recovered at least 26 bodies after a ferry capsized during a storm in a river in central Bangladesh, officials said Friday. Police estimated at least 100 people were still missing, but there was no clear picture about exactly how many people were on board because the ferry operators did not maintain a passenger list, said a local administrator, Saiful Hasan. (AP Photo/Suvra Kanti Das)
A Bangladeshi man mourns for his missing brother, as rescuers continue to search the site of a ferry that sank, on the banks of the River Meghna in Munshiganj district, in Bangladesh, Friday, May 16, 2014. Rescuers have recovered at least 26 bodies after a ferry capsized during a storm in a river in central Bangladesh, officials said Friday. Police estimated at least 100 people were still missing, but there was no clear picture about exactly how many people were on board because the ferry operators did not maintain a passenger list, said a local administrator, Saiful Hasan. (AP Photo/Suvra Kanti Das)
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MUNSHIGANJ, Bangladesh (AP) — Rescuers called off the search for missing passengers of a sunken ferry in central Bangladesh on Saturday after retrieving 40 bodies, causing anger among relatives of those still unaccounted for.

The chief of Bangladesh's water transport authority, Shamsuddoha Khandaker, said that divers would leave the River Meghna site where the ferry M.V. Miraz-4 sank in a storm on Thursday. There was confusion over how many passengers were onboard, and authorities would not provide any complete list.

"We are calling off the search as the ferry has been towed to the bank and we found no more bodies. In total, our rescuers found 40 bodies," he said.

Ferry operators in Bangladesh usually do not maintain a list of passengers, and none was available in the latest disaster, said local administrator Saiful Hasan.

"I haven't got my brother, where is he? Why do authorities stop searching?" asked Mohammad Moniruzzaman.

Before 11 more bodies were recovered Saturday, police had estimated that at least 100 were still missing.

Rescue diver Masudul Haque said on Friday evening he had recovered nine of the bodies but many 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," he said.

Relatives of the missing and the dead gathered on the banks the Meghna River, near where the boat capsized. Several bodies, covered in cloth, were laid out on the ground.

"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 some 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 the capital Dhaka. Up to 400 people died.

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