- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

MANAMA, Bahrain — A cruise boat carrying up to 150 people capsized last night in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Bahrain, and at least 48 bodies were recovered, the country’s coast guard chief said. American divers and a U.S. helicoptear aided the rescue effort.

Coast guard chief Youssef al-Katem said at least 63 persons survived. A passenger on board calling from his cell phone was the first to alert officials that the ship was tilting, Mr. al-Katem said.

Survivor Khalil Mirza of Bahrain said he made the call. He said the tilting began while the craft was making a left turn out of the harbor.

“People were scared in the water,” he said. “They were fighting with each other and screaming.”

Television stations early today put the death toll at 54, but that higher figure couldn’t be confirmed with authorities.

The official Bahrain News Agency said the al-Dana was on an evening cruise that was to last several hours. It overturned less than a mile off the coast, it said. Television footage showed the boat capsized but not sunk, with rescue workers walking on its brown hull.

U.S. helicopters and divers joined the rescue operation launched by Bahrain’s coast guard. Bahrain, a tiny island nation on the western side of the Persian Gulf, is home to the Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The passengers were thought to be a mix of mainly Bahrainis, nationals of other Gulf Arab nations and Westerners. Health Minister Nada Haffadh told Al Arabiya television that survivors who arrived at hospitals included nationals of India, South Africa, Singapore and Britain.

Information Minister Mohammed Abdul-Ghafar, interviewed on Al Arabiya, said the passengers included 25 Britons, 20 Filipinos, 10 South Africans and 10 Egyptians.

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