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Egypt ship with 1,400 aboard sinks, many feared dead
Updated: 2006-02-03 21:28

The boat was also reported to be carrying more than 40 vehicles.

The Panamian-flagged ship is 118 metres long (387 feet) and around 24 metres wide (78 feet).

Andrea Odone, from the operations department of the Al-Salam Maritime Transport company's Cairo headquarters told AFP that the ship complied with all safety rules.

"The ship is registered in Panama. It met all the safety requirements, and it fully complies with international safety rules... The number of passengers on board was less than the maximum number," he said.

"We have diverted three of our vessels to go on the spot. One of them will be at there 3:30 pm (1330 GMT)," said Odone, who was unable to give any figures on the number of people feared dead.

A ship owned by the same Al-Salam company collided with a cargo ship near the entrance of the Suez canal in October, causing a stampede that left two dead and up to 100 wounded.

Most of the passengers were also pilgrims returning from Mecca.

An inquiry into the accident blamed the captain for violating the rules governing transit through the Suez canal.

Red Sea Governor Bakr al-Rashidi announced that an operations room had been set up in Safaga and a state of emergency was declared in the area's hospitals.

The popular holiday area was already hit by tragedy on January 31 when a bus carrying HongKong tourists overturned between Hurghada and Safaga, leaving 14 dead and 30 wounded.

Close to 500 people had perished when another Salam Express ferry boat sunk in the Red Sea in 1991. A probe had said the accident was caused by a navigation error on the part of the captain.

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