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At least 51 die in Bahrain ferry accident

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Television footage shows rescuers on a boat. Officials say nightfall will complicate the rescue effort.

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The Bahrain Interior Ministry says it has set up a hot line for people seeking information about the passengers. For international callers, the number should be preceded by an international exit code, then the Bahrain code 973.

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- At least 63 passengers were rescued -- and the bodies of 51 others recovered -- after a passenger ferry carrying about 135 people on a company outing capsized and sank Thursday night in a narrow channel off the Bahrain coast, officials said.

"We're still not really sure about the nationalities," said Tariq Hassan, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. He added that an investigation will be conducted into the sinking, which occurred about 9:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET).

Officials are trying to determine what caused the ship to sink in clear weather less than a mile off the Bahraini coast, near the capital Manama.

Witnesses said the boat sank on its way back into port, according to the British Foreign Office.

Bahraini officials said there was no indication the boat was attacked. Without elaborating, they said only that the boat experienced a "technical" problem. (Watch rescue efforts in Bahrain -- 1:26)

Twelve of those rescued were injured and taken to a Bahraini hospital, according to the Interior Ministry.

Information Minister Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar said he estimates that the passengers included 25 Britons, 10 South Africans, 20 Filipinos, 10 Egyptians and 10 Bahrainis.

It was his understanding that the passengers worked for the same company and were on an evening dinner cruise scheduled to last a couple of hours, Ghaffar said. He added that the company was based in Bahrain.

"We hope we can find more survivors," Ghaffar said, but other officials expressed concern that the rescue would become more complicated once the sun set. (Watch how U.S. and Bahraini officials are scrambling to figure out what happened -- 2:50)

The U.S. Navy sent boats, a Coast Guard cutter, 16 divers and two helicopters to assist in the rescue, Navy officials said. The island kingdom houses the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf.

Thursday's sinking comes fewer than two months after an Egyptian ferry -- the Al Salam Boccaccio 98 -- sank in rough Red Sea waters in early February. An estimated 1,000 passengers were feared dead.

CNN's Caroline Faraj and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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