MANAMA, Bahrain – An unstable cruise boat crowded with partygoers made a sudden left turn before capsizing in calm Gulf waters only a few hundred yards off the Bahrain coast, survivors said. At least 57 people drowned.
Bahrain television quoted the owners as saying the boat, an Arab dhow with high sides that had been modified to include two decks, was overloaded when it left port and capsized when most of its 126 passengers moved to one side. The vessel was long and narrow, and the extra decks could have made it top heavy.
Survivors said they believed most of those killed were dining in the lower deck of the al-Dana, and they described scenes of panic among the passengers thrown into the gulf.
"People were scared in the water. They were fighting with each other and screaming," Khalil Mirza, a Bahraini survivor, told The Associated Press.
U.S. Navy helicopters and divers stationed in Bahrain with the 5th Fleet ended their search for survivors early Friday after Bahrain authorities said they no longer were needed, a Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, told the AP. Television footage showed the boat capsized but not sunk, with rescue workers walking on its brown hull.
Sixty-seven people were rescued but two remained missing from the al-Dana, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Tarik al-Hassan said Friday. Some of the missing might have tried to swim ashore since the boat overturned less than a mile off the coast, he added. blankets. One male survivor was shown being treated for cuts to the head.
Survivors, some with blood streaming down their faces, hugged each other. 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.
The dead included 17 Indians, 13 British citizens and nationals of Pakistan, South Africa, the Philippines, Singapore, Germany and Ireland, al-Hassan said. Eleven had not been identified.
Bahrain is an oil-exporting and refining archipelago of 688,000 off the coast of Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Navy has had a presence there for more than 50 years.
The capsizing of the ship came about two months after an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, killing about 1,000 people. The vessel was en route from the Saudi port of Dubah to the Egyptian port of Safaga when it went down before dawn about 60 miles off the Egyptian coast.