At least 57 people, including 1 Irish man, 13 Britons and 17 Indian nationals, drowned when a dinner-cruise ship with 137 people on board capsized just off the Bahraini coast last night in calm waters, the Interior Ministry said.
Sixty-seven people were rescued and 13 were missing from the vessel, the Al-Dana, Interior Ministry spokesman Col Tarik al-Hassan told a press conference today.
It was not clear what caused the boat to capsize, but Bahraini television reported Friday the boat’s owners as saying the ship might have been overloaded, and had overturned when most of the passengers moved to one side.
“Things were going all right, people were dancing, people were having fun, but the boat was very crowded,” Khalil Mirza, a Bahraini survivor said.
“People were scared in the water,” he said. “They were fighting with each other and screaming.”
Mirza said the boat listed as it made a left turn soon after it left the harbour and that he sounded the alarm about the accident via his mobile phone.
The Bahraini Coast Guard confirmed that a survivor had made the distress call using a mobile phone.
The Al-Dana was a modern version of the traditional dhow sailboat common throughout the Persian Gulf.
Made of wood and fibre-glass, it was powered by motor and having no sail it had room for dining and dancing during harbour cruises and jaunts to nearby islands.
Al-Hassan declined to give a reason for the accident, saying there might be several factors that contributed to the capsizing.
He said the ship’s captain, a non-Bahraini, had survived and was being interrogated, as part of the investigation.
The death toll from other nations was: Pakistan five, South Africa four, Philippines three, Singapore two and Germany one, Al-Hassan said.
But the Indian ambassador to Bahrain, Balkrishna Setty, said that 18 Indians had been confirmed dead.
Spokeswoman for the British embassy, Karen Williams, said that 15 Britons, three of whom were dual nationals, had perished in the incident.
As rescue operations continued it was not clear whether the additional persons confirmed dead by their embassies were among the 11 bodies the Interior Ministry said had not been identified or whether they had been counted twice because they were dual nationals.
The American who survived the incident was identified as a civilian woman working for the US Navy base in Bahrain, said Commander Jeff Breslau, spokesman for the US 5th fleet, which is based in the tiny island nation on the western side of the Persian Gulf.
US Navy helicopters and divers took part in the search launched by the coast guard last night, but the Navy wrapped up its assistance before dawn today after Bahraini authorities said they had no further need of support, Breslau said.
The rescue effort continued this afternoon, but was winding down, said an official at the Bahraini Ministry of Information.
Passengers were celebrating the completion of the structure of the Manama’s World Trade Centre at a party organised by several companies, India’s ambassador to Bahrain said.
“These were all young engineers and managers,” Shetty said. “One was just married a year ago,” he said referring to an Indian national who had drowned.
The Indian embassy said that the boat was owned and operated by a local company, Al Kobaisi Travel and Tours.
The 25-member WTC-project team of the South Africa-based Murray & Roberts Group was on board the boat, said a statement on the company’s web site.
Fifteen of those were confirmed safe, four dead and six were unaccounted for. The shell of the two-tower WTC-complex dominates Manama’s waterfront.
“We are deeply shocked by this tragedy. Our sympathy and condolences go out to all those who have been affected,” chief executive Brian Bruce Bruce said.
Prime Minister Sheik Khalifah bin Salman Al Khalifah told Bahraini TV that he directed the Interior Ministry to investigate whether the ship was seaworthy, its licence allowed it to operate cruises, and if it had followed safety regulations.
The ship overturned while on an evening cruise that was to last several hours. State TV showed rescue workers walking on the brown hull of the small ship.
TV images showed rescue workers taking bodies wrapped in white sheets off a small dinghy. Men carried the bodies away in blankets or on stretchers, while boats with flashing lights moved in and out of port.
Scores of officials and relatives waited in the harbour watching the rescue operation. Some helped the rescue workers.
Television footage also showed survivors, appearing in shock and their hair still wet, squatting on the floor of a hospital. Many of them covered themselves with blankets. One male survivor was shown being treated for head cuts.
Survivors hugged each other. Some had blood streaming down their faces. Several wept uncontrollably as friends and relatives tried to calm them.
Some survivors needed assistance as they disembarked from a rescue boat that brought them to shore.
Other footage showed those rescued at Murraq base. A woman survivor was seen repeatedly pressing on the chest of the victim in an attempt to revive the person. Another, from India, wept uncontrollably. An aid worker wrapped the arm of an injured survivor with a bandage.
Health Minister Nada Haffadh told Bahrain television that a total of 24 people had been admitted to hospital.