PASSENGERS on the dhow which capsized just off Bahrain last night didn't even have time to reach for life jackets, survivors said early this morning. The dhow, hired for a private dinner cruise, "toppled very fast", they said.
The newly-refurbished dhow was chartered by Island Tours from owners Al Qobaisi Travel and Tours for a private party, comprising about 130 people of varying nationalities, said sources onboard when it sank.
"Island Tours was told that the boat had a capacity of 200 people. It was a big dhow, with an upper deck," they told the GDN early this morning.
"The event was a private staff function for the World Trade Centre. There were no children onboard.
"All of the guests were adult men and women."
The boat reportedly set sail from the Marina Club in Manama at 8pm and cruised around the bay.
It was scheduled to return at 10pm.
An Indian barman, still very shaken a few hours after being pulled out to safety from the area near Asry where the tragedy occurred, said the boat "rocked badly and tilted over" after hitting a wave.
"The boat tilted over quite far," he said.
"The refrigerator and stove all slid to one side of the boat and with that extra weight, the boat couldn't sustain it any longer and we rolled."
The man was one of the first survivors to be rescued.
Meanwhile, sources revealed that a South African man, who was initially onboard the dhow but decided to skip the cruise, had warned other guests on the boat to not gather on the upper deck.
"He told them: 'Look people, this is a boat and it must remain stable. Please, everybody go downstairs so the boat can become more stable'.
"The guests listened to him and went down.
"The South African man said he went on the boat because he was worried and felt he had to warn them that they shouldn't gather on top.
"He got the microphone and told them to go down because the boat was rocking from side to side.
"There were life jackets on board, but the boat toppled very fast - there wasn't enough time."
The water in the area is understood to have been at least 12 metres deep.
"It is also a very dark area," said sources onboard.
"The people who designed the boat should be questioned.
"There is also a problem in Bahrain because there doesn't seem to be any policy on these dhows and people don't follow through with regulations."
Other than evening cruises, Island Tours also organises dolphin watches, island lunch trips and private charters, among other events.
Meanwhile, the US Navy sent a rescue team comprising divers, small boats and a helicopter to help the recovery effort.
US Naval Forces Central Command and US Fifth Fleet public affairs officer Commander Jeff Breslau said it was asked to send assistance by Bahrain authorities shortly after the dhow incident.