Angry ferry families in attack on hospital
HUNDREDS of relatives of passengers on the ferry that sank in the Red Sea attacked the offices of the ship's owners yesterday, throwing furniture into the street and tearing down the company's sign. Riot police fired tear-gas to restore order.
Family members also tried to storm a hospital in another port town after it displayed photographs of corpses pulled from the sea. They wanted to get into the hospital mortuary to see if their loved ones were there.
Since the Al-Salaam Boccaccio 98 sank on Friday with the loss of about 1,000 lives, relatives have complained and occasionally rioted over the lack of information on casualties from the government and the ship's owners. They have also accused the authorities of mishandling rescue efforts.
The governor of Red Sea province, Bakr al-Rashidi, said yesterday that only 388 of the more than 1,400 people on board were known to have survived. This was 13 fewer than the survivor toll given by Egyptian police on Sunday. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
Mr Rashidi said that the number of bodies retrieved from the sea had risen to 244. The previous figure was 195.
Most of the passengers were low-income Egyptians returning from working in Saudi Arabia or Gulf countries.
The ferry was in the early stages of its 130-mile voyage from Saudi Arabia to Egypt when a fire broke out on the car deck. Survivors say the captain decided to push on towards the Egyptian port of Safaga, but the fire spread, an explosion was heard and the ship capsized in high winds.
In Safaga yesterday, riot police who had been guarding the port gates rushed to the ferry firm's offices and dispersed the rioters with tear-gas. Some rioters set fire to tyres, but these were extinguished by firefighters.
In the port town of Hurghada, about 40 miles to the north, a crowd outside a hospital became angry when a line of police officers displayed photographs of those who had drowned on the ferry.
The crowd broke through the security barriers in front of the hospital, but did not get through the gates and enter the building. Police and hospital officials agreed to allow small groups to enter the hospital mortuary to identify their relatives.
The interior ministry said an unspecified number of police officers and civilians were injured in the violence and treated in hospital in the two ports.
In a statement, it said that while it sympathised with the families, "this does not justify the rush to violence and rioting".
It said the rioters in Safaga had thrown stones at the police and wrecked signs outside the port gates, and those in Hurghada had smashed up a police car and lobbed stones that broke hospital windows.
Independent Egyptian newspapers accuse president Hosni Mubarak's government of protecting the ship's owner, who they say is close to a senior government official.
Initial offers of help in the rescue from the United States and Britain were rejected, and four Egyptian ships reached the scene only by Friday afternoon, about ten hours after the ferry is believed to have capsized.
Survivors have spoken of crew errors before the sinking. Khaled Hassan, a 27-year-old survivor from a village near Luxor, who was travelling home after working in Kuwait, said he saw the captain jump into a lifeboat as passengers were left behind. His story could not be verified.
Abdul Muhsin Rayan, a 35-year-old from Sohag who had been working in Saudi Arabia, said that as smoke engulfed the ship, crew members told the passengers not to put on lifejackets that were nearby, because that would panic women and children.
"From the captain on down, no-one gave us any instructions on what to do," he said from a hospital bed.
A member of parliament, Mustafa al-Bakri, one of 20 lawmakers who went to Safaga, has said parliament will investigate why officials received no distress call.
Mr Mubarak's office has said the ferry did not have enough lifeboats, but Maj-Gen Sherin Hasan, the chairman of the maritime section of the transport ministry, said there were more than enough lifeboats for the number of passengers on the ferry.
El Salam Maritime, the ferry's owner, said it complied "with all the international safety regulations and treaties and was certified to make international voyages".
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west