CAIRO: Rescue teams have picked up 100 survivors from a ferry which sank in the Red Sea overnight, Egyptian television said on Friday, quoting naval sources.
The ferry, the Al Salam 98, was carrying 1,272 passengers and a crew of close to 100, official sources said.
Egyptian state television gave no other details for the report of 100 survivors, which it posted on screen.
Many people were feared dead Friday when the Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea during a crossing from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.
Fourteen bodies had already been recovered amid fears of a much higher death toll, while survivors were battling for their lives in lifeboats in heavy seas.
A helicopter has spotted lifeboats with people on board, said Red Sea port authority chief Mahfuz Taha. The ship sank 57 miles off Hurghada.
The lifeboats were seen in waters off the Egyptian port city of Safaga, some 600 kilometers (370 miles) southeast of Cairo, security sources said. Earlier, a security source said bodies were sighted in the water.
At least 12 people were rescued but efforts were being complicated by heavy seas, winds and strong currents. However officials said relatively warm weather would help the survival chances of those in lifeboats.
Maritime sources said at least 1,310 passengers were on board, mostly Egyptians as well as Sudanese and Saudi nationals.
Among the passengers were pilgrims returning from the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, they said.
Transport Minister Mohammed Mansur told Egyptian public television that 104 crew members were onboard and added that coordination with Saudi rescuers was underway.
The seas were very high and the weather was not good, he also told CNN. The Egyptian navy, the Egyptian coast guard and army have sent four frigates to assist with the rescue operation.
Britain s Royal Navy diverted the HMS Bulwark warship in the Red Sea to offer help, but the vessel would reportedly take one and a half days to reach the scene.
The Egyptian ship, called Al-Salam 98, had departed from the Saudi port of Duba and had been due to reach Safaga at 2:30 am local time (00:30 GMT).
However, officials lost radar contact with the ship, and air and maritime rescue teams were mobilized. No distress signal was reported to have been received.
The boat was also reported to be carrying more than 40 vehicles.
The Panamian-flagged ship is 118 meters long (387 feet) and around 24 meters wide (78 feet).
Andrea Odone, from the operations department of the Al-Salam Maritime Transport company s Cairo headquarters, told AFP that the ship complied with all safety rules.
The ship is registered in Panama. It met all the safety requirements, and it fully complies with international safety rules… The number of passengers on board was less than the maximum number, he said.
We have diverted three of our vessels to go on the spot. One of them will be at there 3:30 p.m. (13:30 GMT), says Odone, who was unable to give any figures on the number of people feared dead.
A ship owned by the same Al-Salam company collided with a cargo ship near the entrance of the Suez canal in October, causing a stampede that left two dead and up to 100 wounded.
Most of the passengers were also pilgrims returning from Mecca.
An inquiry into the accident blamed the captain for violating the rules governing transit through the Suez canal.
Red Sea Governor Bakr Al-Rashidi announced that an operations room had been set up in Safaga and a state of emergency was declared in the area s hospitals.
The popular holiday area was already hit by tragedy on January 31, when a bus carrying Hong Kong tourists overturned between Hurghada and Safaga, leaving 14 dead and 30 wounded.
Close to 500 people had perished when another Salam Express ferry boat sunk in the Red Sea in 1991. A probe had said the accident was caused by a navigation error on the part of the captain. Agencies