At least 57 die in Bahrain tourist ship sinking

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MANAMA, Mar 31 (Reuters) At least 57 people have drowned after a tourist boat carrying more than 130 people on a dinner cruise sank off Bahrain yesterday, a coastguard official said today.

Rescue operations were still underway to search for survivors. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry told Al Jazeera television that 67 survivors had been found.

''Until now the number of people dead is 57 and there are 67 survivors,'' Colonel Tarek al-Hassan, spokesman for the Interior Ministry told Al Jazeera television.

''There are a large number of those who died who were not carrying IDs so it's hard to determine who they were and where they come from,'' he added.

Earlier yesterday, Coastguard commander Youssif al-Ghatam told a news conference most of those on board were Asians, but also included Europeans and Arabs.

U S and Bahraini officials said there was no indication that the sinking was the result of an attack.

''Up to this moment, it appears totally unlikely,'' Information Minister Mohammed Abdul-Ghaffar Abdullah told Al Arabiya television yesterday.

Al Arabiya had quoted the boat's owner as saying it may have been overloaded and capsized after many passengers gathered on one side of the vessel.

A survivor told Al Jazeera that the two-storey boat had capsized after apparently hitting a wave as it was turning.

Abdullah said initial reports suggested around 25 Britons, 20 Filipinos, 10 South Africans and 10 Egyptians were among those on board.

Organisers said around 150 people had signed up for the dinner cruise but around 130 were believed to have been on board when the boat sank, around 1.5 km (1 mile) off the coast. They said the boat had been hired by a local contracting company for a cruise.

Al-Hassan told Al Jazeera television it was still hard to confirm how many people were on board when the ship sunk.

''Until now we can't confirm the number specifically on board, because a number of people who were invited decided at the last moment to leave the ship because they felt nauseous,'' Al-Hassan said.

''The investigation is still underway to find out who stayed on the ship and who left.'' Bahrain's Health Minister Nada Haffadh told Al Jazeera that 30 of the rescued were hospitalised. She said they included 17 Indians, four Britons, two South Africans, two Filipinos, and one each from Italy, China, Thailand and Bahrain.

Yesterday Commander Jeff Breslau, a spokesman for the U S Navy's 5th Fleet which is based in Bahrain, said 16 Navy divers and a U.S. ship were assisting in rescue efforts. He said the boat had sunk in a harbour close to the shore.


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