Egyptian Passenger Ship Sinks in Red Sea

An Egyptian passenger ship carrying 1,300 people has sunk in the Red Sea, the head of the Egyptian Maritime Authority said Friday.

Mahfouz Taha Marzouk said the ship, "Salaam 98," sank 40 miles off the Egyptian port of Hurghada.

There was no indication of what may have brought down the ship.

Helicopters have spotted bodies as well as one lifeboat carrying three people near where the ship was last seen on the radar screens, Egyptian maritime officials said. They did not say how many bodies were sighted.

Four Egyptian frigates have sailed to rescue survivors, Egypt's minister of transport, Mohammed Lutfy Mansour, told CNN.

"The Coast Guard is doing every in its power to try to rescue these people," Mansour said.

Britain also diverted one of its warships to the scene.

Asked about the safety of the ship, Mansour said it met safety requirements and that the number of passengers on board was less than the capacity.

The ship disappeared from radar screens shortly after sailing from the western Saudi port of Dubah at 7 p.m. local time on Thursday night, maritime officials in Suez said.

The ship was due in at Egypt's port of Safaga at 3 a.m. local time, the officials added. Dubah and Safaga lie across from each other at the northern end of the Red Sea.

The ship is owned by the Egyptian firm El-Salaam Maritime Transport Co. and was carrying 1,300 passengers, officials said. Some of the passengers are believed to be pilgrims returning from the annual hajj to Mecca, which ended last month.

Mamdouh Ismail, the company's owner, said the ship is more than 25 years old and registered in Panama. He refused to elaborate.

A ship owned by the same company, also carrying pilgrims, collided with a cargo ship at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal in October, causing a stampede among passengers trying to escape the sinking ship. Two people were killed and 40 injured.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.