Egyptians ransack ferry firm office

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Egyptians ransack ferry firm office

Postby Chris » Mon Feb 06, 2006 5:15 pm

Egyptians ransack ferry firm office


By Ahmed Fahmy
Mon Feb 6, 10:30 AM ET

SAFAGA, Egypt (Reuters) - Angry Egyptians seeking news of relatives lost aboard the ferry which sank in the Red Sea last week ransacked the office of the vessel's owners on Monday and set fire to the furniture, witnesses said.


A crowd of men hurled chairs, filing cabinets and air-conditioning units out of the first floor office, piling them up in front of the building and setting fire to them, Reuters Television footage showed.

Police fired tear gas to drive away the chanting crowd and firefighters were brought in to douse the flames.

"The company is responsible for what happened because the boat was old," said Ahmed Seif, adding that he was not involved in the attack on the premises but was frustrated by a lack of information from the firm and the government on the disaster.

Seif, from Sohag in southern Egypt, was desperate to find out what had happened to his brother.

The 35-year-old Al Salam 98 ferry, which worked in Italy until it was bought by the Cairo-based el Salam Maritime Transport Company, sank early on Friday during a voyage from Saudi Arabia to Safaga on the Egyptian Red Sea coast.

The cabinet spokesman, Magdi Radi, said more bodies and one survivor had been found since Sunday evening, taking the total number of dead to 244 and the number of survivors to 388.

The ship was carrying 1,414 people when it went down and the more than 700 people not accounted for are feared dead.

Witnesses reported a fire on board the ship, in the area where cars were parked, before it sank. The authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the disaster.

Relatives have been angered by survivors' accounts of the way the ferry continued its voyage for several hours after the fire broke out below deck and accounts of people spending up to 24 hours in the sea waiting for help.

Officials were probing reports the captain of a passing ship had failed to move to rescue passengers. An official at the Transport Ministry said the captain in question had been suspended pending investigation.


The crowd in Safaga, desperate for information about survivors, swelled to more than 1,000 over the weekend, when they scuffled with riot police and threw stones at officials at the port where the ferry had been due to arrive on Friday.

By Monday relatives, who complained about rough and insensitive treatment at the hands of the police, began to disperse as some learned the fate of their loved ones and others traveled to Cairo to try to identify and collect bodies.

In nearby Hurghada, another group of relatives tried to force their way into a hospital but were stopped by police.

Most of the passengers on the ferry were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states but there were also Saudis, Syrians and Palestinians onboard.

The latest disaster has fueled criticism that Egyptian safety regulations are haphazardly enforced and that not enough has been done to educate the public about the need for safety.

The ferry sinking follows a string of fatal road accidents in recent weeks, a theater fire last year which killed 46 people and an airline crash in 2004.

"People have developed a culture of playing hide and seek with the authorities when it comes to safety," said Mohamed al-Sayed Said, an analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Egyptian media have accused the ferry's operators of making the ship unsafe by adding extra decks after buying it and using a Panamanian flag to avoid safety requirements.

El Salam Maritime said the firm complied with international safety regulations and was certified to work in European waters.

(Additional reporting by Amil Khan)
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