Ferry tragedy: Port protesters demand information

More than 100 protesters demonstrated outside an Egyptian port today demanding to know the fate of family and friends on board the ferry which sank in the Red Sea.

They jeered police and criticised Egypt’s president calling for more information about the 1,000 people still missing presumed drowned.

The demonstration outside the port of Safaga – the ship’s original destination from a port in Saudi Arabia – came a day after protests turned violent on Saturday, with family members throwing stones at police and banging on the doors to the docks.

Today the demonstrators, who have been waiting in the streets outside Safaga port for almost two days, yelled: ”Where is the president, where are our sons? Where are the bodies? We want to know the fate of the children.”

“If you don’t have the bodies, at least give us (death) certificates and let us go. You have been torturing us for days,” shouted Heshmat Mohammed Hassan from Sohag, whose brother is still missing, as he stood in front of a line of policemen welding batons.

Omar Fouad, 31, also from Sohag and waiting to hear the fate of a cousin, said: “All that we want to know is if they are dead or alive. Every day they read the same list of names of survivors. They have been too cold about this.”

A total of 379 passengers have been rescued and 136 bodies have been collected since the ship sank early on Friday, with rescue operations still going on, said Bakr el-Rashidi, the governor of Egypt’s Red Sea province.

“What I am supposed to do for them?” he asked of family members. “We feel for them and we are announcing the information when we get it.”

He said that 11 policemen had been injured by stones on Saturday.

An Italian ship had rescued seven Egyptians and taken in an unidentified body from the sea, and handed them to the Sharm el-Sheik port authority and another ship rescued two other survivors, said Said Abdel-Fattah director of the South Sinai medical centre. It was unclear if those were among the 379 passengers cited as rescued.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew to Hurghada, about 40 miles farther north, on Saturday and visited survivors in two hospitals. But television pictures of the visit, which normally would have carried sound of Mubarak’s conversations, were silent.

During the visit, Mubarak ordered that the families of each victim be paid £2,951 in compensation and the survivors £1,475 each. In a televised address, the president said, “We pray that God almighty may count (the victims) among his martyrs.”

The Egyptian government’s rescue effort got off to a slow start. Initial offers of help from the US and Britain were rejected, and four Egyptian rescue ships reached the scene 10 hours after the ferry was believed to have capsized.

The series of tragic errors that led to the ship’s sinking began when the crew decided to push across the Red Sea, despite a fire burning in the ageing vessel’s parking bay, survivors said.

The ship had sailed only about 20 miles from the Saudi shore, but its crew instead tried to reach Egypt’s shores 110 miles away.

“We told the crew, ’Let’s turn back, let’s call for help,’ but they refused and said everything was under control,” said passenger Ahmed Abdel Wahab, 30, an Egyptian who works in Saudi Arabia.

As the blaze grew out of control, passengers rooms moved to one side of the 35-year-old vessel. An explosion was heard, and high winds helped push the unbalanced ship over. The ship quickly sank with more than 1,400 passengers and crew and 220 cars aboard.

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