| The Al Salam 98. File picture
Cairo, Feb. 3 (Reuters): A ferry carrying nearly 1,300 passengers sank in the Red Sea overnight on a trip from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.
Rescue teams pulled at least 185 bodies from the water, Egyptian officials said today.
The teams also plucked up to 231 survivors from the sea. Plane and boat rescue operations continued as darkness fell but hopes diminished of finding more people alive.
Egyptís state news agency MENA said 1,272 passengers had been aboard. The ship had a crew of close to 100.
Most of the passengers were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, officials said, but at this time of year many Egyptians are still on their way home from Haj.
At least 12 survivors were brought ashore at the Egyptian port of Safaga, where the 35-year-old ferry was meant to arrive at 2 am (midnight GMT) on Friday, sources said.
One person close to the operations added: ďThere arenít expected to be many survivors, because itís been so long since the ship went down.Ē
The Al Salam 98 last had contact with shore at about 10 pm (2000 GMT) yesterday on its way to Safaga from Duba in northwest Saudi Arabia, one official said.
An official at el-Salam Maritime Transport Company, owner of the Panamanian-registered ferry, said it might take hours to find out what had happened to the ship, which was built in Italy in 1970 and moved to the Egyptian company in 1998.
None of the officials said there was any indication that the sinking was the result of an attack on the ferry.
MENA said the Saint Catherine, another ferry travelling the same route in the opposite direction, received a distress message in which the Al Salam captain said his ship was in danger of sinking. The agency did not say how the Saint Catherine reacted.
Coastal stations received no SOS message from the crew, said Adel Shukri, the head of administration at the Cairo headquarters of el-Salam Maritime Navigation.