The first of the rescued were brought to the Egyptian port of Hurghada before dawn on Saturday.

 

Mohammed Lutfy Mansour, the Egyptian transport minister, said on Saturday that the 35-year-old ferry that sank early on Friday morning had more than 1400 people on board, mainly Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia.

 

Most were feared lost but at least 324 made it to safety.

 

Fire on ship

 

Investigators were still working to determine a connection between a fire on board the ship and its sinking.

 

Mansour described the fire as small and said there was no explosion.

 

"They left us in the water for 24 hours... Our lives are the cheapest in the world"

Survivor

Nabil Zikry, a survivor, said: "The fire happened about an hour or 90 minutes into the trip, but they decided to keep going. It's negligence."

 

Atef Abed Rabbo, another survivor, said the fire broke out in the engine room at about 10pm, two-and-a-half hours after the ship left Saudi Arabia and that the vessel started to sink at 2am.

 

"We were in the water for 18 hours," he said.

 

"It was like the Titanic on fire," another survivor said.

 

Another said: "They left us in the water for 24 hours. A helicopter came above us and circled, we would signal and they ignored us. Our lives are the cheapest in the world."

Rescue work

Four Egyptian rescue ships reached the scene on Friday afternoon.

At least 324 people survived the
ferry disaster

The Al Salam 98 ferry had been due to arrive at 2am (midnight GMT) on Friday, sailing from Duba in Saudi Arabia to Safaga.

The ship last had contact with shore at about 10pm on Thursday evening.

Rescue boats pulled at least 20 bodies from the water, an official at the Maritime Authority control room in Suez said.

 

Lack of information

 

Hundreds of relatives complained about the lack of information as they waited in Safaga. Police ringed the dock to prevent families and reporters from entering.

 

"How can they put all these passengers in such an old ship that was not fit for sailing? Somebody should be blamed"

Ahmad Abd al-Hamid,
relative

Ahmad Abd al-Hamid, a teacher from the Egyptian city of Assuit who was waiting for his cousin, said: "There is nobody ... to tell us what is going on. We are in a complete blackout.

 

"How can they put all these passengers in such an old ship that was not fit for sailing? Somebody should be blamed."

 

MENA, the Egyptian state news agency, listed the passengers as 1158 Egyptians, 99 Saudis, six Syrians, four Palestinians, a Canadian, a Yemeni, an Omani, a Sudanese and one person from the United Arab Emirates. It said the ship had a crew of close to 100.

Poor weather

MENA quoted officials as saying the ferry had sunk 95km from the Egyptian port of Hurghada, north of Safaga, in poor weather.

An ambulance arrives at Safaga
port, on Egypt's Red Sea coast

The ferry had originally come from Jeddah, the main port for the Hajj pilgrimage.

Adel Shukri, the head of administration at the shipping company, said coastal stations did not receive any SOS message from the crew.

A sister ship, the Al Salam 95, sank in the Red Sea in October after a collision with a Cypriot commercial vessel. In that case almost all of the passengers were rescued.

In December 1991, 464 people were killed when the Salem Express hit coral outside Safaga.