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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006, 06:05 GMT
Hunt continues for ferry victims
Egyptian Mil helicopter used in rescue attempt, 4 February 2006
Rescue teams have already located 380 survivors
Rescue teams are continuing the search for more than 800 people missing two days after an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea carrying 1,400 passengers.

The Egyptian authorities have said 380 survivors had been recovered, as well as more than 200 bodies.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak offered condolences to bereaved families, calling the victims martyrs.

A fire broke out on the al-Salam Boccaccio '98 soon after it left the Saudi Arabia port of Duba.

'Titanic on fire'

On Saturday angry relatives at the port of Safaga, the ferry's destination, clashed with police after they claimed they were being left in the dark over rescue attempts.

An investigation has been launched into how the ferry sank, but it may be hampered by the fact the 35-year-old ship sank in some of the Red Sea's deepest waters.

Some claim the Saudi port was still in view when the fire broke out, but the ship sailed on.

One survivor coming ashore at the port of Hurghada shouted: "It was like the Titanic on fire," according to the AP news agency.

Survivors of ferry disaster are brought ashore
Many of those rescued had spent long hours in the open seas

"Fire erupted in the parking bay where the cars were," said Egyptian passenger Ahmed Abdel Wahab, 30. "We told the crew: 'Let's turn back, let's call for help,' but they refused and said everything was under control."

Another man, Rifat Said, told reporters: "There was thick smoke. We asked why and they told us they were putting out the fire but it got worse.

"The ferry sailed on for two hours listing to the side. Then it just went onto its side and within five minutes it had sunk."

Raafat al-Sayyed told AFP news agency that passengers were told to gather on the decks so that crew members could extinguish the blaze.

Another Egyptian, Kamel Mohammad Abdel Askari, added: "But the fire continued for a long time, and they (the crew) kept on saying that they were getting it under control."

Returning pilgrims

An Egyptian minister described the fire as "small" and said there was no explosion on board, contrary to reports from some survivors.

His 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.

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

No distress signal was said to have been received by Egyptian officials before the ship went down.

Twenty-two more survivors were picked up by Saudi rescue vessels, reports on Saturday said, but officials fear there is little hope of finding others alive more than 36 hours after the tragedy.

Weather conditions have hampered the rescue operation, with high winds and choppy seas.


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