Report on ferry disaster blames everyone

The government report on the Safaga ferry disaster is out. It's not pretty:

"The responsibility of the ship's owner and his sons has been determined in this crime because the ferry was operating with major deficiencies that should have prevented it from sailing," the investigating committee reported.

The report said Al-Salam Maritime Transport Company failed to respond quickly to the disappearance of its ferry, saying the company owned two other vessels that could have arrived at the scene within two hours to look for survivors.

"This amounted to huge negligence in the rescue operation," the report said.

Egyptian government ships reached the scene of the sinking, about 55 miles off the Egyptian coast, about 10 hours afterward.

The 35-year-old ferry was carrying 1,408 passengers and crew and about 220 vehicles from the Saudi port of Dubah to Safaga. A fire broke out in its parking bay, which the crew did not manage to extinguish. Eventually the ship capsized. Only about 400 people survived.

The report said that by international maritime rules the ship should not have been carrying more than 1168 passengers. The owner of the shipping line, Mamdouh Ismail, told The Associated Press it was carrying 1,312 passengers.

A member of Egypt's upper house of parliament, Ismail has fled Egypt and been stripped of his parliamentary immunity.

The report accused Al-Salam of forging maintenance certificates that testified to the good condition of the ferry's life-rafts and lifeboats.

There had been a "wicked collaboration" between the company and the Egyptian Commission of Maritime Safety that enabled the ferry to operate while evading "minimum safety requirements," the report said.

The report recommended that the authorities show "no mercy to those who caused the loss of Egyptian lives and corrupted the maritime safety commission."
The report also condemns the government (presumably without calling for "no mercy" to the people responsible there) for not launching rescue operations fast enough. Meanwhile, the person mainly responsible, ferry company owner Mamdouh Ismail, was given the time to flee Egypt and is safely in London. I'm sure he'll miss fuul and tamiyaa during his long stay out of Egypt.

The next question: what will authorities now do to ensure it doesn't happen again?
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.