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At least 57 dead as Bahrain tourist ship sinks

Written by: Staff

MANAMA, Mar 31 (Reuters) At least 57 people drowned and 13 were missing after a tourist boat taking passengers on a dinner cruise capsized off Bahrain, officials today said.

They said 137 people were on board the pleasure boat -- mostly foreigners including Britons, Americans, Germans, South Africans, Indians and Egyptians -- when it sank yesterday night. Tourism sources said the vessel had a capacity of 100.

The boat's owner, quoted by Al Arabiya television, said the Arabic dhow may have been overcrowded and capsized when many passengers gathered on one side.

Rescuers pulled 67 terrified survivors from the water.

By daylight, only the upturned hull of the dhow was visible, with empty orange life-jackets bobbing alongside.

Bahrain TV showed pictures of rescue workers using pick-axes to try to break through the bottom of the vessel. A temporary morgue has been erected on the harbour side.

''The nationalities of 11 of the dead are still unknown,'' Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Tarek al-Hassan told a news conference.

The ministry said at least 13 Britons were among the dead Earlier, Information Minister Mohammed Abdul-Ghaffar Abdullah told Al Arabiya television that initial reports suggested the dead may also include 20 Filipinos, 10 South Africans and 10 Egyptians.

The interior ministry said three Egyptians were confirmed among the survivors as well as one American.

South African construction firm Murray&Roberts said it had several staff on the boat, from South Africa, Britain, India, Pakistan and Bahrain. It said 15 staff were confirmed safe, four were dead and six were missing.

PLEASURE CRUISE US 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,'' Abdullah said.

Hassan said the ship's captain, who is non-Bahraini, was being investigated. He did not elaborate.

''We need more time ... we do not want to go into speculation and we need to wait for the result of the official investigation,'' Hassan told reporters.

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

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.

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

Reuters LR BD1431

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