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Searchers hunt 33 missing from Indian Ocean wreck

Written by: Staff
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MORONI, Sep 12 (Reuters) Rescuers were searching for around 33 people still missing today after their boat sank en route from Madagascar to Comoros in the Indian Ocean, the French officer in charge of the operation said.

Just 43 survivors had been found till today morning, three days after the Ali Mubarak -- carrying some 51 passengers and 24 crew -- ran into a storm, said Renaud Nicolas.

''The search is continuing with big naval boats and smaller police vessels, and aerial assistance has been made available to increase the search for 33 passengers,'' Renaud told Reuters by telephone from the nearby French-administered island of Mayotte.

''We have worked out that the boat sank 65 nautical miles from the Mayotte coast,'' he said.

One nine-year-old child was among the 43 survivors, although there were discrepancies over the passenger list, he said, with different numbers being given by officials in Madagascar, Comoros, and Mayotte.

The senior gendarme at the Comorian port of Moroni told Reuters the captain and owner of the ship was being held in Mayotte for questioning.

The boat left Madagascar on Friday, but ran into bad weather and sent a distress signal on Saturday at 7.00 a.m., he said.

''After 1300 hrs on Sunday, the boat stopped sending signals,'' he added.

A Comorian plane was sent to search for the boat on Sunday evening, but had not found it by yesterday morning, he said.

The Comorian government requested assistance from the French navy, based on the nearby island of Mayotte, a senior official at the Comorian ministry of transport told Reuters.

REUTERS SAM KN1654

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