Image: Egyptians wait in Cairo on Monday to hear news of their relatives who are missing after a ferry sank outside the Red Sea port of Safaga.
Suhaib Salem  /  Reuters
Egyptians wait in Cairo on Monday to hear news of their relatives who are missing after a ferry sank outside the Red Sea port of Safaga.
updated 2/6/2006 8:17:56 AM ET 2006-02-06T13:17:56

Relatives of passengers on a ferry that sank in the Red Sea attacked the offices of the ship’s owners Monday, throwing furniture into the street and burning the company’s sign. Riot police fired tear gas to restore order.

The relatives are desperate to know whether their loved ones were among the more than 1,000 who drowned and they say El Salam Maritime still has not released the victims’ names. They also accuse Egypt’s government of mishandling the rescue.

The Al-Salaam Boccaccio 98 sank in the Red Sea early Friday on its way from Saudi Arabia to the Egyptian port of Safaga. Only 401 of the more than 1,400 people on board are known to have survived. Most of the passengers were low-income Egyptians returning from working in Saudi Arabia other Persian Gulf countries.

Hundreds of people took part in the attack early Monday on the company’s offices in this Red Sea port. The crowd threw everything in the offices into the street and set fire to a large picture of one of the company’s ferries. They also tore down the company’s sign from the front of the building.

Riot police who were guarding the nearby port gates arrived on the scene and dispersed the crowd with tear gas. Afterward, one civilian was seen holding his head in pain. It was not immediately known how he was injured. Some rioters set fire to tires on roads leading to the port.

The governor of Red Sea province, Bakr al-Rashidi, told The Associated Press he was not aware of the violence.

Mubarak criticized
Independent Egyptian newspapers have accused Mubarak’s government of protecting the ship’s owner, who they say is close to a top official in government.

Fire broke out in the ship’s parking bay as it was about 20 miles from the Saudi shore, survivors said Sunday. The crew decided to push across the Red Sea to try to reach Egypt’s shores 110 miles away.

As it burned, many passengers moved to one side of the ship. An explosion was heard, and high winds helped topple the unbalanced vessel.

Initial offers of help in the rescue effort from the United States and Britain were rejected, and four Egyptian ships reached the scene only by Friday afternoon, about 10 hours after the ferry was believed to have capsized.

Survivors came forward Sunday with more tales of crew errors before the sinking.

Khaled Hassan, a 27-year-old survivor from the village of al-Dhobiyah near Luxor who was traveling home after working in Kuwait, said he saw the ship’s 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 as smoke engulfed the ship, crew members told the passengers not to put on life jackets 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.

Tens of thousands of Egyptians work in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries — many of them from impoverished families in southern Egypt who spend years abroad to earn money. They often travel by ship to and from Saudi Arabia.

Other safety problems
The weekly independent paper Soutelomma said two other ferries owned by the company had sunk in the past 10 years, without the government properly investigating or putting the company’s owner on trial.

Mustafa al-Bakri, part of a delegation of 20 members of parliament who went to Safaga, said lawmakers would try to investigate why Egyptian officials received no distress call from the ship.

He also said the same company operated ships involved in past tragedies, including one that sank last year.

Mubarak spokesman Suleiman Awad said the ferry did not have enough lifeboats and an investigation was under way into the ship’s seaworthiness.

But Maj. Gen. Sherin Hasan, chairman of the maritime section of the Transportation Ministry, said there were more than enough lifeboats for the number of passengers on the ferry.

El Salam Maritime issued a statement declaring it complied “with all the international safety regulations and treaties and (was) certified to make international voyages.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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