India's ferry disaster on the lower Brahmaputra has claimed at least 103 lives. Scores more passengers are feared dead or missing as rescuers scour the swift waters of Asia's major river.
Indian border officials say 103 bodies have been recovered from the swift-flowing Brahmaputra after Monday's capsize of an overcrowded ferry in Assam state.
In total, more than 160 are feared drowned or missing in border waters that flow into neighboring Bangladesh. State chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the toll was bound to rise.
As the double-decker ferry broke in two and overturned during a storm on Monday, some 100 occupants managed to swim to safety or were rescued by riverside residents, including fishermen.
Throughout Tuesday, army divers and speedboats searched the river which is up to eight kilometers (five miles) wide at Dhubri, a district of remote riverside settlements and river islands. Strong currents and rain inhibited the search.
Survivors told television channels that 150 people had been riding on the roof of the daily-service ferry, which was also packed with cargo.
Survivors slam lack of safety
Survivor Hasnat Ali said despite ferries being the commonest transport mode: "There were no safety precautions, including lifeboats or safety gear on such a big ferry. A tragedy like this was waiting to happen.
Local workers had had no alternative but to use such unsafe transport to commute, he added.
Another survivor, Taleb Ali, said the storm hit mid-stream. Passengers had begged the skipper to anchor at a sandbar, but he had refused to do so.
A senior officer with India's Border Security Force, Mohan Lal, said divers and emergency workers had recovered 103 bodies.
Using tractors, the wreckage had been lifted to show that no bodies were trapped inside.
Survivors said as many as 350 people could have been aboard when disaster struck.
Singh offers compensation
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was "grieved" by the disaster. His office announced 200,000 rupees (2,880 euros or $3,808) for each victim as assistance to relatives. Bangladesh said it was checking downriver but had yet to find remains.
Boat tragedies are frequent in India, especially in rural areas, where daily hundreds of thousands transit rivers. State minister Gogoi admitted that Assam did not have enough "personnel to ensure compliance" with safety rules.
In 2010, an overcrowded boat sank in India's eastern state of West Bengal, claiming more than 80 lives. Last March, some 140 people lost their lives in Bangladesh when an overcrowded ferry sank in the Meghna river, southeast of Dhaka.
ipj/slk (dpa, AP, AFP)