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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 22:52 GMT
'Many dead' as Egypt ferry sinks
Relatives of ferry passengers wait for news at Safaga port
Relatives and friends can only wait for news
Hundreds of people are feared to have died after an Egyptian ferry carrying about 1,400 people sank in the Red Sea.

Officials say 185 bodies and about 300 survivors were pulled from the water, but hundreds more remained unaccounted for as darkness fell.

The al-Salam Boccaccio '98 sank about 80km (50 miles) off Egypt during an overnight trip from Duba, Saudi Arabia.

The cause of the disaster is not known, but there were high winds when the 35-year-old vessel set sail.

How can they put all these passengers in such an old ship that was not fit for sailing?
Ahmed Abdul Hamid
Ferry passenger's relative

The Egyptian transport minister said there had been no concerns about the seaworthiness of the ship.

But President Hosni Mubarak has ordered an immediate inquiry into the cause and circumstances of the sinking, as his spokesman has suggested there were not enough lifeboats on the ferry.

'Complete blackout'

Most of the passengers were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, but some were said to be pilgrims returning from Mecca.

The ship vanished after setting sail for Safaga on Thursday evening, but no distress signal was said to have been received by Egyptian officials.

Warships and helicopters have been searching the area, which Ayman al-Kaffas, spokesman for the Egyptian embassy in London, described as "vast".

A spokesman for the ferry's Egyptian owner, the el-Salam Maritime Transport, said later on Friday that between 300 and 400 passengers had been rescued.

"We have found them and we took them on board one of our ships which was sent to take part in the rescue operation," Mohammed Helmy told the AFP news agency.

A British warship sent to the area has been recalled after Egypt said it was no longer needed.

RECENT SHIPPING DISASTERS
2002: Joola, Senegal, more than 1,800
2001: Java, Indonesia, more than 500
1996: Bukoba, Tanzania, more than 500
1994: Estonia, Baltic Sea, 852
1991: Salam Express, Egypt, 464
1987: Dona Paz, Philippines, more than 4,300

The Egyptian ship was carrying 1,310 passengers and 96 Egyptian crew, Jan Maher from el-Salam Maritime Transport told the BBC.

There were about 100 people from other countries, including Saudis and Sudanese, Capt Maher said.

In Safaga, many anxious families have been waiting for hours for news of their loved ones.

"There is nobody... to tell us what is going on. We are in a complete blackout, " Ahmed Abdul Hamid, who was waiting for his cousin, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

AL-SALAM 98
The al-Salam Boccaccio 98. Photo: 1999
Capacity: 1,487
Built: Italy 1970
Length: 118m (388ft)
Gross tonnage: 11,779t
Owner: El-Salam Maritime

Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said "the speed at which the ship sank and the fact there were not enough life rafts on board confirm that there was a [safety] problem".

"But we cannot anticipate the results of the investigation," he told public television.

A sister ship of the al-Salam '98 sank in the Red Sea in October after a collision.

Two people were killed and 40 injured.


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SEE ALSO:
Relatives' fury at ferry silence
04 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Possible causes of ferry disaster
03 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Country profile: Egypt
22 Dec 05 |  Country profiles
Shipping disasters timeline
03 Feb 06 |  Middle East
In pictures: Relatives' anxious wait
03 Feb 06 |  In Pictures


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