290 people have now been rescued from the Red Sea after an Egyptian ferry sank early this morning. 185 bodies were recovered.

The Al Salam Boccaccio 98 was carrying 1,272 passengers and 104 crew when it sank around 80km from the Egyptian coast.

Five lifeboats were recovered, and rescuers were confident more survivors would be found.

Tonight a spokesman for the ship's owner said 400 survivors had been rescued, but this figure has not been confirmed.

Coastal stations last had contact with the vessel shortly after it left the port of Duba in Saudi Arabia last night. The ship was bound for Safaga in southern Egypt.

Difficult weather conditions were said to have hampered early rescue efforts.

The Egyptian Transport Minister Mohammed Mansour said this evening that the Al Salaam 98 was sea worthy. He said most of the passengers were Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia, but some are thought to be pilgrims returning from Mecca.

99 Saudis, six Syrians, four Palestinians, a Canadian, a Yemeni, an Omani, a Sudanese and one person from the United Arab Emirates were among the passengers.

President Mubarak has said he wants an immediate probe into the causes of the accident, and guarantees that other similar ships comply with safety regulations.

'The speed at which the ship sank and the fact there were not enough life rafts on board confirm that there was a safety problem but we cannot anticipate on the results of the investigation,' a spokesman said.

The ferry had a gross tonnage of 6,650 and was owned by the Egyptian company el-Salam Maritime Transport.

A spokesman for the company, Andrea Odone, told reporters the ship met all the safety requirements, and it fully complied with international safety rules. The number of passengers on board was less than the maximum, he said.

Another ship belonging to the company, the Pride of Al Salam 95, sank in the Red Sea in October 2005 after a collision with a Cypriot commercial vessel. In that case almost all of the passengers were rescued.

The Pride of Al Salam 95 previously served the Larne-Cairnryan route as the P&O ship Pride of Ailsa.