Capsized Boat Captain Detained; Survivor Found

The captain of a cruise boat that capsized off the Bahrain coast has been detained and is being questioned over the accident in which 57 people drowned, most of them Indians and Britons, Bahrain's public prosecutor said Saturday.

The captain, who is Indian but was not further identified, did not have a license to pilot the boat, the prosecutor, Nawaf Hamza, told reporters in Manama. He said the captain was ordered held seven days for questioning.

Coast Guard helicopters and divers were still searching for one person missing since the small cruise boat carrying 126 people capsized Thursday night. Most of the 126 had been attending a party being thrown by top construction industry expatriates from 16 countries celebrating progress on building the twin skyscrapers of Bahrain's World Trade Center.

The number of survivors rose to 68 after it was discovered that a British woman had been picked up by a passing boat at the time of the accident and had not immediately reported to police, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Tariq al-Hassan told reporters.

"We still believe one person is missing, and the search will continue as long as we believe that," al-Hassan said.

The two-deck vessel, the Al-Dana, began to list dangerously when it made a sharp turn, sending some party-goers who were dancing on the top deck sliding off into the waters of the Gulf, less than half a mile off the Bahrain coast.

As passengers on the upper deck slid to one side, the boat's weight shifted further, eventually flipping it, drowning many who were below deck, according to survivors.

The Al-Dana was a traditional dhow — a type of sailboat common throughout the Persian Gulf — that had been refitted to host dinner cruises.

The vessel could carry a maximum of 150 people, said an official with the vessel's owner, Al Kobaisi Travel and Tours, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Dinner is usually served while the vessel is docked, he said. Later, the vessel routinely sails for two hours close to the shore.

The dead included 21 Indians and 15 Britons.

British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells said the impact of the disaster on the British community in the tiny Gulf island nation "has been enormous."

"It's a relatively small ex-pat community and to lose this number of people in a single accident has been a great trauma for these people," Howells told reporters Saturday after meeting Bahrain's king and interior minister.

Howells was quoted by Britain's Press Association as saying he believed Bahrain had a "pretty tough system" for licensing pleasure boats.

The capsizing struck a heavy blow to the top management working on the construction of Bahrain's World Trade Center — a nearly completed project to build two 50-story glass and steel skyscrapers in the shape of sails on the shores on Manama.

The buildings were due to be completed this summer.

South Africa-based construction firm Murray & Roberts Group said in a statement that "more than 50 senior employees from various companies working on the World Trade Center Project have been lost."

Al-Hassan, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said Friday that 140 people were aboard the Al-Dana when dinner was served while it was docked at the harbor, but 14 of them disembarked before the vessel sailed.

The death toll from other nations was: five South Africans, five Filipinos, four Pakistanis, four from Singapore and one each from Germany, Ireland and South Korea.

The only American aboard the vessel, a civilian woman working for the U.S. Navy base in Bahrain, survived.