At least 71 people have drowned after a ferry sank in the Tigris river near Mosul in Iraq.
Col Hussam Khalil, head of the Civil Defence Corps in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, said the incident occurred on Thursday while scores of people – mostly women and children – were celebrating Nowruz, which marks the Kurdish new year and the arrival of spring.
Maj Gen Saad Maan, the interior ministry spokesman, said 71 people had died and 55 had been rescued, among them 19 children.
The health ministry spokesman, Seif al-Badr, said the victims included 33 women, 12 children and 10 men. He said 30 people were rescued, adding that search operations were still under way and it was not known how many people were on the ferry.
Khalil said the vessel had sunk because of a technical problem, and there were few other boats in the area to rescue people.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, ordered an investigation and expressed deep condolences to the families of the victims.
The water level on the Tigris was high because of a rainy season that brought more precipitation than in previous years.
The US embassy said Joey Hood, the chargé d’affaires, and the US mission in Iraq “express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the tragic ferry accident on the Tigris river near Mosul”.
Nowruz, the Persian new year, dates back to 1700BC and incorporates Zoroastrian traditions. It is celebrated across territories that once made up the ancient Persian empire, stretching from the Middle East to Central Asia.