Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Ferry with 1,300 passengers sinks in the Red Sea

AGENCIES , CAIRO

A ferry carrying 1,300 passengers sank in the Red Sea on a trip from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, and search and rescue teams picked up dozens of dead bodies from the water, official sources said yesterday.

Some survivors were also brought ashore at the Egyptian port of Safaga, where the ferry had been scheduled to arrive at 2am yesterday morning, they added.

A search and rescue plane spotted a lifeboat near where the 11,800-tonne Al-Salam 98 last had contact with shore at about 10pm on Thursday evening, one official said.

"Dozens of bodies were picked up from the sea ... they were from the ferry," a police source in Safaga said.

Egyptian aircraft also saw bodies floating in the water, other security sources said.

MOSTLY EGYPTIANS

Most of the passengers were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, officials said, but at this time of year many Egyptians are still on their way home from the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted official sources in Safaga as saying the ferry had sunk 92km from the Egyptian port of Hurghada, north of Safaga.

"Some of the passengers survived," it added.

The ferry was on a trip between the Saudi port of Duba and Safaga, both at the northern end of the Red Sea. It had originally come from Jeddah, the main port for the pilgrimage.

Coastal stations did not receive any SOS message from the crew, said Adel Shukri, the head of administration at the shipping company, which is based in Cairo.

POOR WEATHER

The weather had been very poor overnight on the Saudi side of the Red Sea, with heavy winds and rain, he said. But visibility should have been good out at sea, he added.

Another company official, Andrea Odone, said he could not confirm that the ship had sunk or that there were any survivors.

"It could take some hours to work out what happened," Odone said.

Egyptian Transport Minister Mohammed Mansur told MENA the armed forces had deployed four rescue vessels to the scene.

Mansur also told Egyptian public television that 104 crew members were onboard.

The boat was also reported to be carrying more than 40 vehicles.

A Saudi border control official in Jeddah said: "We don't know yet what happened -- if it sank, or overturned, or what."

EARLIER INCIDENT

A sister ship, the Al-Salam 95, sank in the Red Sea in October after a collision with a Cypriot commercial vessel. In that case almost all of the passengers were rescued.

In December 1991, 464 people were killed when the Salem Express struck coral outside Safaga.

Red Sea Governor Bakr al-Rashidi announced that an operations room had been set up in Safaga and a state of emergency was declared in the area's hospitals.

The popular holiday area was hit by tragedy on Jan. 31 when a bus carrying Hong Kong tourists overturned between Hurghada and Safaga, leaving 14 dead and 30 wounded.

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