Egyptian officials initially turned down a British offer to divert a warship to the scene and also declined an offer from the US to send a P3-Orion maritime naval patrol aircraft to the area.
The British craft, HMS Bulwark, headed from the southern Red Sea where it was operating, then turned around when the offer was rejected.
But then Egypt reversed itself and asked for both the Orion and the Bulwark to be sent. However, according to Lieutenant Commander Charlie Brown of the US 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, Egypt finally called off the Bulwark, deciding that it was too far away to help.
In the end, the Orion - which has the capability to search underwater from the air - was sent, but the Bulwark was not, he said.
According to the Jerusalem Post, an offer of help from the Israeli navy was also refused.
Four Egyptian rescue ships eventually reached the scene on Friday afternoon, about 10 hours after the ferry sank.
Saudi ships were patrolling waters off their shore to hunt for survivors, but found none, a senior Saudi security official said.
Denmark offered to send a Challenger jet aircraft from the Royal Danish Airforce to help with the search and any maritime assistance it could offer from Danish ships in the region.