CAIRO - A Cairo appeal court overturned an earlier verdict and sentenced the owner of a ferry that sank in the Red Sea with the loss of more than 1,000 lives to seven years imprisonment for involuntary manslaughter. The ferry owner, who was sentenced in absentia, had initially been exonerated in the tragedy which occurred in February 2006.
On 11 March, however, Mamdouh Ismail, the ferry owner and a former member of Parliament, was sentenced in the sinking of the Salaam 98 passenger ferry, known as the “ferry of death”, in the worst sea tragedy in Egypt’s modern history.
Ismail had been acquitted on all charges during his 2008 trial, incensing the victims’ relatives and human rights groups. That decision stirred up a storm of media speculation at the time asserting that the businessman had benefited from the protection of his high level political contacts.
A total of 1,043 passengers lost their lives in the tragedy with hundreds more injured when the vessel sank during a Red Sea crossing from Safaga, Egypt to the Saudi port of Dhaba.
Ismail denied responsibility for the tragedy and blamed the vessel’s captain, who went down with the ship, for overestimating the capabilities of the vessel’s firefighting equipment. The tragedy was caused by a fire that spread throughout the ship.
The fugitive ferry owner paid US$57 million in compensation after the accident or about US$50,000 to each of the victims’ families.
A report submitted to the Egyptian People’s Assembly said that the ferry was not seaworthy due to many technical defects. The victims’ legal team based their appeal on evidence against Ismail cited in the report.