DHAKA (Reuters) - Rescue workers in Bangladesh expected to find scores of bodies on Saturday trapped between the decks of river ferry that capsized two days earlier with around 200 people on board.
About 40 people swam to shore and 35 were rescued after the double-decker ferry went down in the Meghna river near the capital Dhaka during a storm on Thursday, police and rescue officials said.
Forty-five bodies have been recovered so far, according to officials in the Munshiganj district, and authorities have given up hope of finding anyone else alive.
An official of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said that the M.V Miraj 4 ferry had capacity for 122 passengers, but according to several survivors and a district administrative official the number on board was almost double, though there was no log kept.
The hull of the stricken vessel was visible above the surface on Saturday, and divers had attached chains to one side in order for a crane to pull the ferry right side up, BIWTA Chairman Shamsuddoha Khandker told journalists.
The task is expected to be completed later in the day, which will make it easier for divers to retrieve the missing victims.
“It is unclear just how many bodies are inside the wreck, but once the vessel is recovered we will get a clearer picture,” said one diver, who gave his name as Liton, while waiting to be called into action.
Grieving relatives thronged the river bank, many wailing in distress, as the salvage work continued. Hungry and enduring the summer heat, the bereaved also held protests to vent frustration at the slow pace of the rescue work.
Mohammad Hossain, a director of BIWTA said that the ferry was stuck in an underwater trench and he hoped to have the vessel hauled ashore within few hours.
“We are hopeful to rescue the ferry by midday today,” said Saiful Islam Badal, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj told Reuters.
Khandker told journalists late Friday that under the salvage operation luggage and cargo would be removed before the ferry was hauled to the shore.
Low-lying Bangladesh, with extensive inland waterways and slack safety standards, has an appalling record of ferry accidents, with casualties sometimes running into the hundreds.
Overcrowding is a common factor in many of these accidents and each time the government vows to toughen regulations.
In March 2012, a ferry sank near the same spot, killing at least 145 people.
The district administration of Munshiganj has decided to give 20,000 taka ($256) to each of the families of a deceased.
Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore