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HORROR AT SEA

MANAMA: At least 48 people died and another 27 were injured when a passenger ferry sank off the coast of Muharraq last night. The ferry was overloaded and its Indian captain had initially refused to put to sea, owner Isa Al Qobaisi said.

Officials said most of the dead were Asians, but GCC nationals and Europeans were also understood to have died when the boat overturned around 1km from the Shaikh Khalifa Causeway, which links Mina Salman and Muharraq.

Rescue teams managed to pull at least 63 people alive from the water, including the only three Bahrainis who were onboard, they said.

However, it is thought that around 130 people were on the ferry and the Coast Guard, Bahrain Royal Navy, Bahrain Royal Air Force and US Navy were still looking for more survivors this morning.

The trip was organised by Nass, Murray and Roberts to celebrate the completion of the concrete structure of the Bahrain World Trade

Centre towers.

An investigation is also underway and Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa pledged full support to those affected by the tragedy.

The Premier was at the site supervising rescue operations and later visited the hospital to meet the injured.

"All relevant government bodies will provide immediate help and take all necessary steps to help those who have suffered from this trauma," he said.

Mr Al Qobaisi said his company chartered the boat out to Island Tours for the evening. The boat had a capacity for 100 passengers, but there were around 130 on board, he said.

When the captain saw how many people were boarding and how much stock was being taken on board for the party, he did not want to put out, but organisers insisted, Mr Al Qobaisi added.

The boat departed from the Marina Club. No children were onboard but there were several women - one of whom was pregnant.

The Coast Guard was first alerted to the tragedy at around 9.45pm when it received a call from the mobile phone of one of the passengers, Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Tariq Al Hassan told a Press conference at 1am today.

A patrol arrived at the scene five minutes later.

"The chartered boat left the Marina Club and headed south to the Dry Dock," said Coast Guard director Colonel Yousif Al Ghatam.

"Suddenly it flipped. The cause is being investigated - there is nothing solid yet.

"All of the people who died except one were below deck when it overturned.

"The boat is 10-year-old and is used by tourists. Those onboard were of different nationalities."

Officials said that most of those who died drowned.

"An investigation committee has been formed by the Interior Minister to look into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the ship," said Interior Ministry public relations and information director Major Mohammed bin Daiyna at the Press conference, which took place at Coast Guard headquarters, Muharraq.



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