March 31, 2006

At least 57 die as Bahrain cruise boat sinks

By Hala Alsalman

MANAMA (Reuters) - At least 57 people, mainly foreigners,
drowned when their dinner cruise boat capsized off the coast of
Bahrain, officials said on Friday.

The boat's owner, quoted by Al Arabiya television, said the
traditional wooden dhow may have been overcrowded and capsized
when the passengers, who were aboard for a corporate party,
gathered on one side.

Arab media reports said the captain had been reluctant to
sail with so many on board the twin-decked boat.

The dhow went down late on Thursday. By daylight, only the
upturned hull was visible, with empty orange life-jackets
bobbing alongside.

Some 13 passengers were still missing and Bahrain TV showed
pictures of rescue workers using pickaxes to try to break
through the bottom of the vessel.

Initial reports were that the dead included 17 Indians, 13
Britons, four South Africans, four Singaporeans, three
Pakistanis, three Filipinos, a German and an Irish citizen,
officials said. The nationality of 11 of the dead had yet to be

Rescuers pulled 67 terrified survivors from the water as
the rescue operation went through the night, helped by the U.S.
Navy's 5th Fleet, which is based in the Gulf Arab state.

More than 30 people were taken to hospital, many shivering
and wrapped in blankets.

Aqeel Mirza said he was about 100 metres (yards) away on a
nearby boat when he saw the ship capsize.

"The sea was calm, there were no heavy winds or waves," he
told Arabiya. "Suddenly, in that instant that we were watching
it, the boat overturned very quickly. It just overturned on one
side in seconds, and two seconds later the lights went out and
then we started hearing the screaming."

Mirza added it took more than 25 minutes for rescue boats
to arrive at the scene.

"Most of who died were inside the enclosed restaurant.
Those who were on the top deck found it easier to survive
because they jumped off the boat and waited for rescue," he


Officials said 137 people were on board the boat when it
capsized. Tourism sources said the vessel had a capacity of

The boat trip was for employees of companies involved in a
major construction project in Bahrain and their families.

South African construction firm Murray & Roberts, the
leading firm in the project, said that excluding crew, around
120 people were on the dhow -- employees of the firm, its
partner Nass and subcontractors, and their families.

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 said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Tarek al-Hassan said
the ship's captain, who is non-Bahraini, was being

"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.

Bahraini Health Ministry official Nabeel al-Ansari told
Reuters most of those hospitalised had already been discharged.
"Initially 33 were brought by rescue teams; 31 were discharged
and two have been admitted, both Indian," he said. "One Indian
has a serious brain injury."

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, Commander Jeff
Breslau, said 16 Navy divers and a U.S. ship assisted in rescue
efforts. He said the boat sank in a harbour close to the shore.