An Egyptian passenger ferry has sunk in the Red Sea, carrying more than 1,300 people. Egyptian television is reporting that at least 100 survivors have been pulled from the water. There is no word on how many people may have died in the incident.
It is not yet known what caused the passenger ferry to sink en route from the Saudi port of Dubah to the Egyptian port of Safaga. Officials say severe weather and high seas could have been a factor.
Red Sea provincial Governor Abu Bakr El-Rashidi told VOA that search-and-rescue operations began as soon as authorities realized that the ship had not arrived on schedule.
"We lost contact with the ship at 3 o'clock in the morning," he said. "Search-and-rescue procedures are under way. Four ships and planes are looking for the sunken ship and survivors."
Television footage shows airplanes and helicopters searching the water. Reports from the Red Sea say high winds and rough seas are hampering rescue efforts.
There are now reports of lifeboats being sighted carrying survivors. But the Reuters news agency in Safaga reports that many bodies are also being brought back to the port.
Andrea Odone is an official with El-Salam Maritime Transport, the company that owns the ship. He said it looks like it sank without warning.
"No, there were no distress calls," she said. "No distress was recorded from the satellites or whatever."
Odone identified the vessel as the Boccaccio 98, contradicting earlier reports that it was called the Salam 98. He said there were 1,318 passengers on board and 96 crew members. He said most of the passengers were Egyptian, with some Saudis and a few from other Middle Eastern countries.
"We do not have and we cannot confirm anything about how many lifeboats have launched or whatever," he said. "What we can say is the vessel is well equipped with safety device for 2,000 passengers, more than 2,000 passengers. For this part we are confident that the crew is well prepared. But at the moment we cannot guess the reason or whatever."
A sister ship owned by the same company sank in October after colliding with a Cypriot commercial vessel. Two people were killed in that accident.