Crackdown on dangerous ships

Top-heavy: the ill-fated Salam Boccaccio ferry

Four years after the Red Sea ferry, Salam Boccaccio, sank with the loss of more than 1,000 lives, there are at last signs of a crackdown on unseaworthy vessels in the area.

Surprise inspections of 24 ships operating between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan have resulted in "a number" of them being confined to port, according to Arab News. The exact number has not been disclosed but the paper says 40%-60% of passengers are affected and the shipping companies are losing $500,000 a week as a result. Three out of four vessels plying between Sudan and Saudi Arabia have been halted.

The Egyptian-owned Salam Boccaccio capsized and sank in February 2006 after a fire broke out on board. Modifications to increase its capacity had made it unstable and an accumulation of water used to fight the fire, together with strong winds, is thought to have been the final straw.

An Egyptian parliamentary inquiry blamed the ferry company for the disaster. The ship's owner, Mamdouh Ismael – a well-connected member of the upper house of parliament – was allowed to flee Egypt, allegedly with help from senior officials. He was tried in his absence two years later along with four others and initially acquitted of all charges. The captain of a passing ship which had failed to stop and assist was sentenced to six months in jail. 

Last year, an appeal court overturned Ismael's acquittal and 
sentenced him to seven years in jail – though he remained at liberty abroad.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 21 April 2010.