Egyptian Passenger Ship Sinks in Red Sea
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
An Egyptian passenger ship has gone down in the Red Sea with about 1,300 people on board. It was traveling from Saudi Arabia into Egypt on an overnight crossing when it vanished from radar screens some 40 miles off the Egyptian Coast. About 100 survivors have been rescued from lifeboats. There are reports of dozens of bodies pulled from the water. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following this story and joins me on the line from Cairo. Peter welcome.
PETER KENYON reporting:
WERTHEIMER: Any idea what caused the ship to sink?
KENYON: No idea yet is the short answer. Although officials are saying there are no indication at this point that it was any kind of hostile activity or terrorist act. Satellite weather images do show uh, high winds, stormy weather possibly a sand storm from that part of the Saudi Arabia coast last night. We do have word from Egyptian officials that the ship, which is a passenger ship called Salam 98, is the name of it.
It's considered sunk 40 miles of the Egyptian resort town of Regata(ph). Still no clear answer on the exact cause. It left the Saudi port of Duba(ph) last night. It was bound for Safaga(ph) which is another Egyptian port. The ship disappeared from radar screens not long after leaving the Saudi port. Sometime after that we're told rescue helicopters and vessels were launched.
WERTHEIMER: Was there any kind of SOS message from the ship?
KENYON: As far as we know at this point, nothing of that nature at all, which could suggest that something happened very quickly. But again we really don't know what happened yet. Officials say the concern was first raised, of course, when they lost radar contact. And then when it didn't show up at Safaga, the destination port in the early hours of this morning, uh, the rescue efforts were launched in earnest.
WERTHEIMER: What is happening with the rescue effort?
KENYON: The initial dispatch is to get there the fastest, of course, were rescue helicopters. Their crews reported seeing both bodies and lifeboats with survivors in the water. And some time later, rescue vessels, frigates reached the scene, Egyptian Maritime Authority Officials say. In a process that is likely to continue now for sometime, bodies both living and dead are being pulled from the water. A British war ship also has been diverted to the area but that won't arrive for a day or two.
WERTHEIMER: Most of those on board were Egyptian, is that right?
KENYON: That's the best information at this point. The exact number isn't known. The capacity of the ship was about 1,400 or more people. Officials say it was not clear it was full though when it left. Many of those on board are believed to have been Egyptian workers returning from jobs in Saudi Arabia. There was some early speculation as to whether religious Muslims making their way back from the Hodge (ph) the annual pilgrimage to Mecca may have been on board. Saudi officials at this point say they believe the number of pilgrims on board would have been small.
WERTHEIMER: Peter the ship's owner lost another vessel in the Red Sea last fall?
KENYON: Yes. This isn't the first time we've seen an accident with this type of ship if that's what this turns out to be. The Salam 95, a sister ship to this vessel sank in the Red Sea last fall after a collision with the Supria(ph) commercial vessel. In that case, everybody on board was rescued. Now what maritime experts say in this case, questions that will have to be answered are whether the ship was modified, whether it met relevant local safety standards. And even it did, were those standards stringent enough. As stringent, for example, as those facing Northern European ferrys which more routinely work in heavier conditions.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much Peter. That was NPR's Peter Kenyon in Cairo reporting on the loss of a ship in the Red Sea with 1,300 people on board.