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April 2004 Vol. 19, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Three Perish in Red Sea Live-Aboard Explosion

from the April, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

An American teacher and two 16-year-old students from the Cairo American College died when the live-aboard dive boat Sea Queen II caught fire and exploded off Sharm El Sheikh on February 18. According to college spokesman Drew Alexander, 11 students were enrolled in a rescue diver course being conducted on the 75-foot wood-hulled Sea Queen II. The ship was moored 200 meters offshore, and the students were all in their bunks, "exhausted from a day of diving and swimming."

The instructor, American Dan Andrews, and two Korean students had chosen berths in the ship's lower deck. The other nine students and two instructors slept on the open top deck.

The live-aboard, based in Sharm El Sheikh, was in the Red Sea. Around midnight, trip sponsors and instructors Penny O'Hara and Dr. Hussein Ramadan were awakened by shouting and realized crew members were fighting a fire on the lower deck. They woke the students on the top deck and got them into an inflatable boat. The crew tried to reach the cabins where the Korean students and Andrews were sleeping. Crew members emptied a fire extinguisher, but thick smoke poured up the companionway from the lower deck. Eventually, the inflatable pulled away with nine students, the instructors, and three crew members. The skipper jumped from the upper deck and another crew member jumped from the bow. Both were picked up by the Zodiac, which then circled the Sea Queen II several times. Everyone was yelling for their three missing comrades. But, says Alexander, "there was no response."

Flames soon reached the stern of the ship, where scuba tanks were stored. Then, several blasts rocked the ship. Firefighters arrived 40 minutes after being notified and extinguished the fire about 6 a.m. As it was being towed to shore, the Sea Queen II sank in about 20 fsw. After the vessel cooled, divers entered the boat and recovered the bodies of Andrews and two students.

The initial report from the Sharm El Sheikh police stated " .... when those interviewed were asked about the cause of the fire, they stated it was most probably due to an electrical short (in the A/C room). There is no criminal suspicion." However, a spokesman for the Sea Queen fleet told Undercurrent, "We are waiting for the technical report now to determine cause." The ship has been refloated but appears to be a total loss. Investigations by the Sharm Police, the Sinai District Attorney's office, the various insurance companies, and the college itself are underway.

Alexander also stated, "In a phone call before the tragic night, one sponsor reported to a friend that he had never been on a trip where the students were more team focused and engaged than on this one. It was all going so well and then tragedy struck."

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