Manama: Overcrowding may have resulted in the capsizing of the cruise boat which sank off the Bahrain on Thursday killing 57 people, survivors and witnesses said yesterday.
The claim was corroborated by the boat's owner, who said said the traditional wooden ship may have been overcrowded and sank when the passengers gathered on one side.
Interior spokesman Tariq Al Hassan, at a press conference yesterday, declined to comment on the possible causes of the accident, saying that he could not speculate and would wait for the results of the ongoing probe.
He said that the ship's captain, a non-Bahraini, was being interrogated.
The interior ministry and the public prosecution have set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the accident, unprecedented in Bahrain's history.
Twenty-one Indians and 13 Britons were among the dead in Bahrain's worst maritime disaster after the vessel capsized, security officials said yesterday.
"We have recovered 57 bodies by 9 pm (yesterday), but we still cannot account for two passengers who may have disembarked after the dinner party and before the ship left on the cruise," Al Hassan said.
"We were able to rescue 67 people thanks to the combined efforts of Bahraini security, defence and medical authorities and contributions from the US Navy," he said.
The 88-foot long, 23-foot wide ship, traditionally called Banush in the Gulf, was carrying a party of 137 when it capsized on Thursday at 9.45pm.
According to authorities, 140 were initially on the boat, but 14 disembarked before it set out to sea.
Passengers were celebrating the completion of the construction of the World Trade Centre on Manama's waterfront.
The 25-member WTC-project team of the South Africa-based Murray & Roberts Group was aboard the boat, said a statement on the company's web site. The shell of the two-tower WTC complex dominates Manama's waterfront.
The search and rescue operations will continue until the two missing people either show up or their bodies are found. According to Coastguard chief Yousuf Al Ghatam, divers were able to reach inside the capsized ship, but found no bodies trapped there.
The tragedy has raised the problem of compensation for the victims given that such traditional vessels are not insured, experts said yesterday.
Insurance companies "generally do not insure this kind of traditional boat because international standards do not apply to them," the head of Bahrain's insurance association, Samir Al Wazzan, said.
- With additional reports from agencies
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