1,200 rescued after Red Sea ferry catches fire

Egypt declines Israeli offer of naval assistance; Egyptian Navy boats and aircraft transfer passengers to Sinai port city of Neweiba.

egyptian boat red sea 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
egyptian boat red sea 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Passengers were forced to escape on lifeboats when a fire broke out on a ferry carrying more than 1,200 passengers from the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba to Egypt on Thursday, a maritime official said.
The official from Egypt's Red Sea ports authority said there were no immediate reports of casualties and the rescue operation was continuing.
He said there was extensive damage to the ferry.
Egyptian state television said Egyptian naval launches and military aircraft were involved in the rescue effort. It said more than 800 people had already been transferred to the Egyptian port of Nuweiba.
Israel offered naval assistance and IDF Chief of General-Staff Benny Gantz ordered the navy to prepare itself to provide aid but the Egyptians declined the assistance, saying it was not necessary.
Egyptian Transport Minister Ali Zain el-Abdin told state television he was awaiting confirmation that the remaining 400 or so passengers had been safely transferred.
The fire erupted on the Pella, owned by Arab Bridge Maritime Company (AB Maritime), about 15 nautical miles from Aqaba, the official said, adding that another vessel was sent from Aqaba to help. The ferry was also carrying five trucks.
The official said the passengers were mainly Egyptian expatriate workers returning home from neighboring states.
AB Maritime, founded in November 1985, is a joint venture between the governments of Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. It has paid-up capital of $66 million.