Sixty-nine people are confirmed dead and rescuers are still searching for missing passengers after a ferry collided with a cargo ship and sank in a Bangladesh river, officials said.

The death toll soared on Monday as navy and fire brigade divers recovered more bodies from the accident that happened a day earlier. 

"Most of the new bodies were found in the boat after it was raised and dragged to the shore," inspector Abdul Muktadir told the AFP news agency. 

Sunday's disaster was one of the deadliest boat accidents in recent months in the country, which has a history of ferry tragedies.

I was on the deck of the ferry and fell into the river. Those who were on the deck were able to come out but none of the passengers inside could get out.

Hafizur Rahman, survivor

Local administrator Rashida Ferdous told AFP that the master of the cargo ship and two other crew had been arrested.

The twin-deck MV Mostofa was carrying about 140 passengers when it capsized in the middle of the Padma river.

"Some 50 people swam ashore or were rescued by other vessels," Ferdous added.

The vessel was reportedly heading to the town of Paturia in Manikganj district, about 70km from the capital Dhaka, from Rajbari district.

Local newspaper Prothom Alo quoted one survivor, Hafizur Rahman, as saying the cargo ship hit the boat 15 minutes after departure - causing it to overturn and trapping many passengers.

"I was on the deck of the ferry and fell into the river. Those who were on the deck were able to come out but none of the passengers inside could get out," Rahman said.

Bangladeshi ferries do not normally keep passenger lists, making it difficult to establish how many are missing after an accident.

The Padma river is one of the largest in the delta nation. Boats are the main form of travel in many of the country's remote rural areas, especially in the south and northeast.

Catalogue of accidents

Boat capsizes are common in Bangladesh, one of Asia's poorest nations, which is criss-crossed by more than 230 rivers.

Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Naval officials have said more than 95 percent of Bangladesh's hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized boats do not meet minimum safety regulations.

Earlier this month at least five people including a minor were killed when an overloaded ferry carrying some 200 passengers capsized in an estuary in the south of the country.

About 50 people were killed in August last year when a crowded ferry sank in rough weather in the Munshiganj district.

Some 150 people were killed in March 2012 after an overcrowded ferry carrying about 200 passengers sank after being hit by an oil barge in the dead of night.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies