The rescuers could not locate the ill-fated Pinak-6 even over 30 hours after the double-decker launch sank in the Padma with more than 200 passengers on board near Mawa Ghat in Munshiganj.
At least 129 passengers were still missing as of 9:00pm yesterday, according to the information centre set up by the district administration.
The rescuers said there was no hope of finding any survivor.
Nurul Haque, director (development) of Fire Service and Civil Defence, said all teams are working round the clock but have yet to trace the sunken lunch as well as any missing bodies till 1:00am today.
Saidul Hasan, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj, claimed that around 100 passengers were rescued so far.
Family members and relatives of the missing people were unhappy with what they said was slow progress in the salvage operation by Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the navy, police, coast guard, fire service and district administration.
Accusing the rescuers of neglect, they even blocked a road in front of Padma Rest House near Mawa Ghat for an hour in the morning.
The rescuers, however, said they found it difficult to carry out rescue operation due to strong currents and high winds in the choppy waters where the depth of the river is at least 90 feet.
No body was recovered from the scene yesterday.
However, police said the body of a woman was found floating in the Meghna river near Haimchar upazila of Chandpur in the morning. She could be one of the passengers of the ill-fated vessel.
The woman was aged about 25, said Moniruzzaman, officer-in-charge of Haimchar Police Station in Chandpur.
Meanwhile, police confirmed the identity of one of the two female passengers whose name couldn’t be known on Monday.
The body of Hasi Begum, 50, a resident of Shibchar of Madaripur, was handed over to her brother Hannan around 12:00noon.
The two female passengers, who were rescued around 11:30am on Monday, died about 20 minutes later.
Pinak-6 that was on its way to Mawa from Kewrakandi was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85. It sank in the face of strong waves and high winds in the mighty river near Louhajang around 11:00am on Monday.
Briefing reporters on the salvage operation in the evening, BIWTA Chairman Shamsuddoha Khandakar said they would launch a joint intensive search in a few hours.
“Three ships equipped with side-scan SONAR system will conduct the search simultaneously,” he said.
The ships from the navy, BIWTA and BIWTC will cover at least 600 metres on the Kewrakandi-Mawa route, he said.
The vessels will also search up to one kilometre in the upstream and three kilometres in the downstream, the chairman said.
He also said restrictions would soon be imposed on small vessels plying big rivers like the Padma.
In reply to a query, he said Pinak-6 that left Kewrakandi with around 150 passengers took on board an additional 100 passengers at a terminal halfway to Mawa.
The launch took aboard the extra passengers at Kathalbarhi launch terminal where it was not supposed to stop. “The number of passengers in the vessel finally stood around 250,” he said.
Capt Nazrul Islam of Bangladesh Navy told this newspaper that they conducted a pattern search on the route with SONAR machines till 12:00noon, and then started a random search in the afternoon.
“The sunken launch might have been washed away or covered in silt. We are trying to locate it with the machines,” he said.
Meanwhile, a murder case was filed against the launch owner, its master and four others. BIWTA Inspector Jahangir Bhuiyan filed the case with Louhajang Police Station.
Rescue vessel Rustom reached the spot around 9:30pm on Monday. But it sat idle as the sunken vessel couldn’t yet be found.
Survey vessel Kandari left Chittagong for the spot around 12:00noon and is expected to reach Mawa Ghat by this morning. The vessel can locate a sunken launch even if it is covered in silt, said officials.
The failure to locate the launch irked family members and relatives of the missing people, as they kept waiting on the riverbank for news of their loved ones.
“We cannot understand what they [the rescuers] are doing. More than 30 hours have elapsed, but they could not even locate the launch, let alone giving any news of the survivors,” said Mizan, relative of a missing person.
Some of them were upset with journalists for what they said was broadcasting wrong information.
“We want news of our missing family members. Please don’t mislead us with wrong information,” said a family member of a missing person.
Even after the launch disaster, many launches were seen overloaded with passengers at Mawa Ghat. In the evening, vessel ML Prince was seen carrying at least 250 passengers against a capacity of 140.
Wasim Bin Habib and Pankaj Karmakar