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Ferry 'pressed on despite fire'

Testimony: Water sprayed on fire caused vessel to tilt

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SAFAGA, Egypt (CNN) -- A crew member of the ferry that sank Friday in the Red Sea said Sunday water used to extinguish a fire aboard caused the ship to list in heavy winds.

The crew member said the fire occurred shortly after the ferry with 1,401 people aboard left the Saudi port of Doha, but that the ship's captain chose to continue the 195-kilometer (120-mile) voyage to Egypt.

Radar contact with the ship was lost at midnight Thursday, three hours after it left port.

The crew member said the fire alarm sounded as a result of a fire in a truck on the second level of the ship.

The ship's cargo included 22 cars and 16 trucks, said Maher Abdel-Wahed, Egypt's attorney general.

Transportation Minister Mohammed Mansour said initial reports indicated the fire started in a storage luggage area, then spread to the ship's mechanical room.

In the first detailed accounting of who was aboard the ship, Abdel Wahed told the government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram that the ferry was carrying 1,193 Egyptians, 99 Saudis, six Syrians, a resident of the United Arab Emirates, a Palestinian, an Indonesian, a Sudanese, a Filipino, a Yemeni, and a Canadian.

In addition, it was carrying 96 crew members, all of them Egyptian.

The total is just shy of the ship's capacity of 1,487 passengers.

Around 1,000 people are feared dead in the accident. Officials say about 400 people have been rescued.

The Cairo-based company that owned the 35-year-old ferry defended the vessel's performance and said Saturday that it was too soon to determine the cause of the sinking.

"It is quite early to determine the actual causes as all the authorities and company efforts now are mainly concerned with the search-and-rescue operations as first priority," said El Salam Maritime Transport Co.

The company said the vessel had complied "with all the international safety regulations and treaties and has been certified to make international voyages." It said crew members were certified to do their jobs and were "highly trained."

The ship was thought to be carrying people who attended the recent Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The company identified the ship captain as Sayed Omar, a 1965 graduate of the Egyptian naval academy who was certified as a master in 1972.

He joined El Salam Maritime Transport Company in 1998.

The company said only 17 of the 96 crew members had been reported alive.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday visited a hospital where victims were being treated and told reporters the government would pay emergency compensation to survivors and relatives of the dead.

Survivors are to receive 15,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,600) and families of the dead are to get twice that.

Hundreds of relatives -- many of them sobbing -- kept vigil near the Safaga port during the weekend, waiting to find out the fate of the missing. Some angry relatives threw rocks at police as they awaited information.

Police used their batons to keep back the crowd, reported CNN's Ben Wedeman. Watch as grief turns to anger for those who wait for word -- 2:23

Cairo bureau chief Ben Wedeman and correspondent Paula Hancocks contributed to this report

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