An Egyptian passenger ferry carrying nearly 1,500 people, mostly Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia, sank in the Red Sea overnight. Coast Guard vessels pulled some 185 bodies from the sea, and at least 263 survivors escaped on lifeboats.
Four Egyptian rescue ships reached the scene Friday afternoon, about 10 hours after the 35-year-old ferry likely went down.
As darkness descended Friday at the site, around 95 kilometers (57 miles) off the Egyptian port of Hurghada, there were fears the death toll could be extremely high. Any survivors still in the Red Sea could go into shock as temperatures fell in the already cold waters, which average in the upper 60s Fahrenheit (around 19 Celsius) in February.
The ferry did not have enough lifeboats, a spokesman for President Hosni Mubarak said.
Transport Minister Mohammed Lutfy Mansour told CNN that 263 survivors had been found so far.
A police official at the operations control room in Safaga, where Mansour was directing rescue efforts, said 185 bodies were found. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
There was confusion among the casualty reports, with Mansour reporting only four bodies found. Some rescue officials said efforts were focusing on pulling out the survivors rather than the dead.
Coordination in rescue efforts also appeared confused. Egyptian officials initially turned down a British offer to divert a warship to the scene to help out and a U.S. offer to send a P3-Orion maritime naval patrol aircraft to the area. The British craft, HMS Bulwark, headed toward from the southern Red Sea where it was operating, then turned around when the offer was rejected, reports AP.
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