Salvage workers have found more than 300 bodies after braving storms to refloat a ferry that sank last week in one of the country's worst navigation disasters, Bangladesh's shipping minister said today.
The workers, hampered by the stormy weather, were searching for more bodies from the ferry, which sank Friday about 40 miles south of Dhaka, as authorities sought to identify those bodies already recovered.
A newspaper reporter at the scene said people several miles downstream reported seeing about 35 bodies floating there. "With these, the death count comes to about 340," said the reporter, Shakhawat Hossain.
Some survivors said the M.V. Salahuddin-2 -- certified to carry 310 passengers -- was loaded with possibly twice that number when it sank, meaning the actual death toll may never be known.
Many bodies are believed to have been swept away in the strong currents of the Meghna River.
The 105-foot, triple-decked ferry was en route from Dhaka to coastal Patuakhali, 95 miles to the south, when it sank in the Meghna River in Chandpur district. The Meghna is 130 miles long and flows south from northeastern Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. It is an important inland waterway that carries heavy traffic.
"We were traveling together, going home. Suddenly the curse came from the sky. Strong wind pushed the ferry to one side and it sank," said one passenger, Mohammad Masud, as he looked frantically for his elderly father. "It was all dark, except for flashes of light from thunderbolts."
Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the accident.
Bangladesh has a history of shipping disasters, and investigations frequently conclude that regulations are ignored by some transport operators, who bribe officials to look the other way.
The shipping minister, Akbar Hossain, said the government was trying to find out if the ferry had a faulty design, an invalid fitness certificate or outdated operating equipment.
Families of the dead or missing were waiting anxiously today for news of their relatives.