Khaleej Times - 2/4/2006
The authorities are interrogating the Indian captain of the ill-fated Al Dana pleasure boat that capsized here late on Thursday evening, killing 57 people of 16 nationalities.
While the police are continuing with their investigation with the captain, several serious questions about the registration status of the boat and qualification and experience of its captain still remain unanswered.
There are still more questions: Was the boat refurbished recently considering the basic balance and floatability design? Was it insured? Had it received a seaworthiness certificate? Was safety of passengers and the crew taken into consideration? And who gave the order to the captain to sail off despite, as reported earlier, his initial refusal to do so considering the number of people and cargo on board?
Another important question. Why didn’t the captain send an SOS to the Coast Guard immediately? In fact, he never sent one, and apparently jumped out of the boat to save his life. When the Khaleej Times asked Colonel. Tariq Al Hassan, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, agreed that the police were interrogating the captain. Colonel Al Hassan added that the matter would be handed over to the Public Prosecutor. “When a tragedy of such magnitude happens, the first priority is to focus on the search and rescue mission, to save the maximum number of lives possible and to recover as many bodies as possible of the deceased. Now the case goes to the Public Prosecutor,” he said.
However, “we have set up a special committee to investigate the tragedy and also to find out what were the factors that caused the tragic accident”. He said that the “report of the committee will be studied when presented, at the concerned levels.”
Talking about releasing the bodies to the deceased’s relatives in Bahrain, or repatriating them to the victims’ home or to ask about the concerned embassies here, he said that it “will be done once the post-mortem is completed. It will take one or two days.”
Considering the gravity of the case, “we want to be sure of every aspect involved”, he said.
It was a dinner party hosted by Nass, Murray & Roberts, contractors of the Bahrain World Trade Centre, to celebrate the completion of the building’s concrete structure. The contracting company had invited senior members of its own staff and as well as of those companies related to the project. Spouses were also invited, but no children.
The boat’s capacity was 100 people, but eventually 126 boarded the ill-fated Al Dana, which was 85 feet long and 23 feet wide. But due to the new refurbishment and the addition of a deck, the height was beyond the acceptable measures.
It is learnt that around 20 people returned homes when they found, while aboard, that the boat was already rocking and people were still coming in and it was getting crowded. Some of them also warned friends that it could be dangerous to continue with the party, but not all heeded.
According to sources, the captain was not qualified. He was merely a sailor. Commenting on the captain’s failure in sending an SOS, Colonel Yusuf Al Ghatam, Commander of the Bahrain Coast Guard at the Ministry of the Interior, told Khaleej Times that “the boat turned over at 9.30pm, but we got a distress call from a passenger at 9.45pm asking for Coast Guard’s help”.
“Our rescue team could reach there within five minutes since the place of the accident was only about one kilometre from the coast and from our headquarters,” he said pointing out that had the place of accident been farther away the number of the dead may have risen much higher.
AFP, Reuters add: An Egyptian survivor who was on the upper deck at the time of the accident alleged that poor steering had contributed to the tragedy.
“The sailor turned the boat around abruptly. It tilted to the right and in 15 seconds slammed into the water. Everybody who was on the upper deck was thrown into water,” said Nasser Wahib, 38, who was onboard with a brother and friend, all of whom have survived.
“A few seconds later, the boat flipped upside down. Those in the lower deck were trapped inside. I could see them banging on the glass window trying to get out. I tried to help them but I couldn’t break the glass,” he told AFP.
One woman from the Philippines survived by hanging on to a rope. “I wasn’t able to jump and I cannot swim. I wasn’t able to wear a lifejacket either because it all happened so fast,” she said.
The blame game
Al Wasat daily published yesterday an interview with the “captain of the Banoosh”, naming him captain R, in which he put the blame on the tour operator, saying they insisted on loading too much drinks and party equipment.
Abdullah Al Qubaisi, from the Al Dana company that owned the vessel, blamed the disaster also on overloading, telling state television it was allowed to carry only 100 passengers.
He said the boat was rented to a local company called Island Tours which arranged the cruise.
“They loaded the boat with more than its capacity. The captain refused to sail but they forced him to leave,” Qubaisi said.
He said the captain and two assistants, who survived, reported that the boat capsized when too many passengers gathered at one end.
But the owner of the tour company retaliated, describing Dana’s accusations as “absurd”.
“Obviously they are going to shift the blame... They were of the view that they had more than enough capacity,” Island Tours owner Shaikh Nawaf bin Isa Al Khalifa told AFP.
Shaikh Nawaf said his company does not operate traditional banoosh boats — said he had documentation from Dana “to that effect”.
Meanwhile, rescue workers searched yesterday for two missing passengers of the cruise boat, officials said.
A helicopter circled the clear sky and Bahraini navy ships were scouring the water for the missing after their twin-decked boat went down late on Thursday.
Families of 13 Britons who drowned were expected to arrive in Bahrain later in the day to claim the bodies, the British Embassy in Manama said.
“The main focus of the British Embassy today is to support the bereaved and assist employers in notifying next of kin,” an embassy spokeswoman said.
“A rapid deployment team from London has arrived. It includes seven staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Red Cross,” she said.
The dead were: 21 Indians, 13 Britons, five South Africans, five Filipinos, four Singaporeans, four Pakistanis, two Thais, a German, an Irish citizen and a South Korean.
Rescuers pulled 67 survivors from the water. More than 30 people were taken to hospital. Most have been discharged.