Image: Drowning victims
Hektor Pustina  /  AP
Mourners carry coffins Thursday in Tirana, Albania, of victims of the boating disaster.
updated 3/6/2008 1:22:20 PM ET 2008-03-06T18:22:20

Twin boys who should have been celebrating their third birthday on Thursday were among 16 people who drowned overnight when a boat carrying partygoers from a lakeside restaurant capsized and sank.

Eight of the dead were from the same family.

The parents of twins Gerti and Rei Osmani had taken them along to a relative's 21st birthday party at a restaurant on the shores of Lake Farka, a popular and picturesque holiday attraction about three miles east of the Albanian capital, Tirana.

After the party, the group of 19 people piled into a boat — which police said had a maximum capacity of seven people — to cross to a road on the other side of the lake. The trip should have taken only a few minutes, but the boat capsized and sank shortly after midnight, police spokeswoman Alma Katragjini said. Only three people survived.

Authorities recovered 16 bodies from the lake: seven men, seven women and the two children.

The dead included eight members of the Osmani family — the twins, their parents Ida Osmani, 24, and her husband, Alket, who was in his late 20s, and another four.

Bodies had scratch marks
An official at Tirana morgue, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said many of the bodies bore scratch marks, indicating they had tried to grab hold of each other in panic as they struggled to stay afloat.

The government declared a national day of mourning, and flags at all public buildings were lowered to half staff. Workers across the country observed a minute of silence at noon, while Parliament suspended its session for Thursday in a sign of respect for the victims. The government has said all the funerals were to be held at public expense. Prime Minister Sali Berisha, President Bamir Topi and Parliament speaker Jozefina Topalli visited the Osmani family to pay their respects before the funeral.

It took just moments for the boat to go down, survivor Beqir Sinani told Vizion+ television.

"It sank and everybody was underwater in a matter of seconds," he said.

The restaurant's owner, Afrim Dibra, had been driving the boat and was among the dead. His teenage daughter Erjona, who had not been on board, rushed to the scene in a second small boat, and she and Sinani managed to pull two women from the water, Sinani said.

Tirana police issued a statement saying a preliminary investigation into the incident indicated Afrim Dibra was responsible for the accident because he overloaded the boat.

Black-clad relatives and friends gathered outside Tirana morgue to identify the dead, crying and holding on to each other for support.

Interior Minister Bujar Nishani went to the morgue to offer his condolences to the victims' families. Nishani called the sinking an accident and said authorities were investigating its exact cause.

Lakeside and seaside restaurants are popular in Albania, but most are within easy reach of roads. Lake Farka's was more remote, and the boat was used to ferry customers to it.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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