(Adds rescue operation ended, toll rises, quotes)
By Serajul Quadir
DHAKA, May 17 (Reuters) - Rescue workers in Bangladesh completed the search of a stricken river ferry on Saturday, bringing the number of bodies recovered to 54 two days after the vessel capsized with around 200 people on board.
“We were able to salvage the capsized ferry today and there are no more bodies inside the wreck,” said Saiful Islam Badal, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj district.
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 afternoon, police and rescue officials said.
An official of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said the M.V Miraj 4 ferry had capacity for 122 passengers, but according to several survivors and a district official the number on board was almost double, though there was no log kept.
Divers attached chains to one side to pull the ferry right side up on Saturday. At the end of the day, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) declared the end of the rescue operation inside the vessel, but Saiful said a search of the river would go on.
“Rescuers from the navy, coast guard and police will continue to search while there is a possibility of finding more bodies in the river,” he said.
Hungry and enduring the summer heat, grieving relatives thronged the river bank. Many were wailing in distress, and voiced anger that the rescue operation had been ended.
“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.
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 Rosalind Russell)