Bahrain boat safety questioned

Coast guard chief Colonel Yussef al-Ghatim told reporters that the boat was inaugurated last month on the premise that it was “a floating restaurant, not a passenger vessel”.

It also appeared that the boat did not have a captain and was operated by an Indian deckhand, who was being questioned by police, according to Indian Ambassador Balkrishna Shetty.

The traditional wooden boat known as a banoosh had been chartered for a company dinner cruise when it capsized about two kilometres out to sea. The majority of the dead were Indians and Britons.

South African company Murray and Roberts and its partner Bahraini firm Nass had hired the boat to celebrate completing the shell of a US$150 million World Trade Center being built in Manama, slated to be the tallest building in the country.

Island Tours, a local firm owned by Sheikh Nawaf bin Issa al-Khalifa who is a member of Bahrain’s ruling family, had arranged the trip and hired the vessel from Al-Dana company.

Sheikh Nawaf told news agency AFP that Briton Simon Hill, who worked for the Nass-Murray and Roberts joint venture, had liaised with his company to organise the event.

Mr Hill testified on Sunday with other company executives in Bahrain’s criminal court, an anonymous company official told AFP.

In a press conference late on Saturday, Mr Hill gave conflicting accounts on whether he discussed putting the boat to the sea with the deckhand or not.

Sheikh Nawaf revealed also that an experienced South African seaman whom he dispatched to the boat when the party started voiced concerns over the number of passengers and their positions on the boat.

“He told me: I have seen a lot of people upstairs and told them that they shouldn’t all be there,” Sheikh Nawaf told AFP of the last phone call between him and the seaman, whose name he declined to reveal.

“He also told me this boat was not what we thought it was (before) he told me later that the boat had already left,” he added.

The South African was not onboard when the banoosh sailed.

Distraught relatives

At the morgue of the Salmaniya hospital in Manama, dozens of bereaved relatives — mostly Indian, Pakistani and Singaporean — stood in shock as a truck loaded with 11 coffins pulled up.

The bodies of 16 passengers — mostly Asian — were brought to the main morgue at the hospital, said Dr T.V. Cheryan, while the bodies of British victims were taken to another morgue in the same hospital.

Bahraini state television announced rescue operations had ended after the retrieval of the body of a missing Filipina, bringing the death toll to 58, while 68 passengers survived.

But an interior ministry official told AFP later that the television report was wrong, and that the missing passenger has not been accounted for as yet.

The Philippines embassy also confirmed that the 26-year-old waitress was still missing.

The interior ministry had said the dead included 21 Indians, 13 Britons, five South Africans and six Filipinos, although the British embassy had put the number of dead Britons at 15, including three with dual nationalities.

The dead also included four Singaporeans, four Pakistanis, two Thais, one German, an Irish national and a South Korean woman.

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