Sunday, February 05, 2006
Survivors of the Red Sea ferry disaster said on Saturday the Egyptian captain had fled his burning ship by lifeboat and abandoned them to their fate, as hopes faded of finding some 800 missing people. Some passengers, plucked alive from the sea or from boats after the ferry caught fire and sank early on Friday, said crew members had told them not to worry about the blaze below deck and even ordered them to take off lifejackets. An official at el-Salam Maritime Transport Company, which owned the Al Salam 98, said the Captain, named as Sayyed Omar, was still unaccounted for. The company will issue a written statement on the disaster later on Saturday, he added.
Rescue workers have recovered 195 bodies from the Red Sea and saved 400 people, but about 800 more, most of them Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia, are missing. The director of the Red Sea Ports Authority, Major-General Mahfouz Taha, said 378 survivors had come ashore on the Egyptian side. The Saudi authorities said they had picked up 22. Survivors said a fire broke out below deck shortly after the 35-year-old vessel left the Saudi port of Duba on Thursday evening with 1,272 passengers and a crew of about 100. The ship began to list but the crew continued to sail out into the Red Sea rather than turn back to the Saudi port, they told reporters in the Egyptian port of Safaga, where the ferry should have landed early on Friday. Egyptian survivor Shahata Ali said the passengers had told the captain about the fire but he told them not to worry. "We were wearing lifejackets but they told us there was nothing wrong, told us to take them off and they took away the lifejackets. Then the boat started to sink and the captain took a boat and left," he added, speaking to Reuters Television. "The captain was the first to leave and we were surprised to see the boat sinking," added Khaled Hassan, another survivor. Other survivors told similar stories.