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Thursday, April 20, 2006

'Wicked Collusion' Is Found in Thousand Deaths on Ferry

Some of you may recall that a couple of months ago, I carried the story of an Egyptian ferry that sank on a trip from Dubah, Saudi Arabia to Safaga, Egypt, a 120-mile trip. More than 1000 people were killed.

Today, the New York Times reports that a preliminary parliamentary investigation has found that government incompetence and 'wicked collusion' led to the deaths on the ferry. No real surprise there. What is surprising is that the report was issued at all.

The report, by a committee of 23 members of Parliament, directly attributed the disaster to the Egyptian Authority on Maritime Safety and to the ship's owner, Al Salam Maritime Transport Company, which is controlled by Mamdouh Ismail, a member of the upper house of Parliament appointed by President Mubarak.

The report's authors vowed "to beat with an iron fist on everyone who allowed himself to tamper with the standards, laws and rules for the sake of achieving cheap worldly gains, even if the cost was to kill people, drowning and destroying the lives of many Egyptian families and spreading calamity and catastrophe across Egypt."

The document found fault at many levels: with a political system that allowed Mr. Ismail to run a ferry service while also serving in Parliament; with the maritime authority responsible for overseeing the ports; and with a military-affiliated command that began a rescue operation hours after receiving a distress signal with the location of the ship.

The committee also castigated the government for failing to provide facilities for family members who showed up at the port.

After bodies were recovered, the report said, "it was up to those who wanted to identify the body of a relative for burial to roam between hospitals and morgues across 10 different cities and thousands of kilometers to go through the faces of the dead."

The government did not respond to the report. Magdy Rady, the government's chief spokesman, did not return calls or text messages asking for comment.


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