Strong currents hamper search for Myanmar ferry victims as death toll rises to 34

YANGON (AFP) - Strong currents on Sunday hampered efforts to retrieve the bodies of victims of a ferry accident that killed at least 34 people off western Myanmar, as hopes dimmed for the missing.

The "Aung Takon 3" sank late on Friday after leaving the town of Kyaukphyu on its way to Sittwe in western Rakhine state.

Updating the toll, police said 34 people died in the sinking with a dozen more listed as missing. The ship was officially carrying 214 passengers and crew.

But locals have said they fear many more unregistered ticket holders may have been on board, a common practice on the impoverished nation's often overcrowded ferry network. "We have hundreds of people helping with the rescue, but there's a strong current, it's hard to carry out rescue work," Mr Thein Naing, a senior police official in Kyaukphyu, told AFP. "We have 34 dead people so far... we will continue the search until we have found everyone."

But expectations of finding survivors have diminished nearly two days after the boat went down.

Many Myanmar citizens living along the nation's lengthy coastline and flood-prone river systems rely on poorly-maintained ferries for transportation.

The area where the "Aung Takon 3" capsized is notorious for its treacherous waters.

In recent years Rakhine state has also been the departure point for thousands of desperate Muslim Rohingya who crowd onto small and dangerously overcrowded boats to escape persecution, often aiming for Thailand and Malaysia.

But many of the barely seaworthy boats never reach their destinations.