Hundreds of people crowded a river bank in Bangladesh Tuesday, many wailing in grief as they searched for dozens of loved ones feared drowned when an overloaded ferry sank and killed at least 51 people, witnesses said.

Nearly 40 people were still missing after the twin-deck ferry, the M.V. Prince of Patuakhali, went down Sunday during a storm in the choppy Tentulia river at Galachipa, 350 km (220 miles) south of Dhaka.

Officials said they expected to end the search for survivors Tuesday but grieving relatives told reporters they would stay there for days to find their loved ones, dead or alive.

Zahirul Islam lost his wife in the disaster but was waiting for word about his 12-year-old son after the ferry was salvaged late Monday. "I cannot go home without my only son," a local reporter quoted the weeping father as saying.

The ferry was carrying more than 100 passengers and tonnes of merchandise, rescue workers told reporters at Galachipa. The vessel was registered to carry 80 people.

Bangladesh has a history of ferry accidents in which hundreds of people die each year, especially during the stormy summer months.

But the exact number of people onboard or of victims are never known because the ferries mostly do not keep passenger lists or follow operational rules set by maritime transport authorities, inland shipping officials said.

They said much of Bangladesh's vast ferry fleet has little or no safety equipment, and operators and owners often neglect weather forecasts and shipping rules despite repeated accidents.

At least 118 people died in the last major ferry disaster, on the river Buriganga near Dhaka in February.


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