Rescue workers have completed the search of a capsized river ferry in Bangladesh after recovering at least 54 bodies from the wreckage, the Reuters news agency has reported.
But while the search of the vessel has ended, authorities said they would keep searching the Meghna, one of the widest rivers in the world.
Two salvage vessels brought the sunken ship, MV Miraj 4, closer to the shore, allowing divers to search inside the vessel on Saturday.
“We were able to salvage the capsized ferry today and there are no more bodies inside the wreck, said Saiful Islam Badal, the deputy commissioner of Munshiganj district in central Bangladesh.
We'll take action against the ship's driver and the owner as we have evidence that the driver defied warnings to continue the journey despite the storm.
About 40 people swam to shore and 35 others were rescued after the double-decker ferry sank in the Meghna river near the capital, Dhaka, during a storm on Thursday, police and rescue officials said.
The relatives of those missing in the ferry accident protested the decision on Saturday to end the search of the capsized vessel.
They were angry that divers failed to find more bodies, according to a police official.
“They chanted slogans against the inland water transport authority,” said Zakir Hossain, the district police chief, adding that some of the relatives had been waiting on the river bank since the boat sank.
“Some of them boarded small fishing boats and tried to attack a salvage vessel as soon as the search of the vessel was called off,” Hossain told the AFP news agency.
One relative said his uncle and brother were on the ferry and that he would not leave until they were found.
“I am here to find out what happened to my uncle and my brother and I cannot go back to my home without them,” said Mukhlesur Rahman.
River search ongoing
Authorities said they would keep searching the Meghna, one of the widest rivers in the world, for more bodies.
“Rescuers from the navy, coast guard and police will continue to search while there is a possibility of finding more bodies in the river,” Badal said.
The exact number of passengers on board the ferry was not immediately known as Bangladeshi ferries do not maintain passenger log books.
Authorities initially said that the ship was carrying up to 350 people when it left for southern Bangladesh, but later reduced the number to between 150 and 200 passengers.
A Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) official said the MV Miraj 4 ferry could carry a maximum of 122 passengers, but according to several survivors and a district official, the number on board was almost double.
Shamsuddoha Khandaker, the chief of the BIWTA, told AFP that the ship capsized after it was swamped by giant waves caused by an early summer storm and added that the driver should have paid attention to warnings.
“We’ll take action against the ship’s driver and the owner as we have evidence that the driver defied warnings to continue the journey despite the storm,” Khandaker said.
At least 12 people are still missing, according to reports from relatives.