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?Captain abandoned us to die?

SURVIVORS OF the Red Sea ferry disaster said its captain fled the burning ship by lifeboat and abandoned them to their fate, as hopes faded today of finding some 800 missing.

india Updated: Feb 05, 2006 14:11 IST
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SURVIVORS OF the Red Sea ferry disaster said its captain fled the burning ship by lifeboat and abandoned them to their fate, as hopes faded today of finding some 800 missing.

Some passengers plucked alive from the sea or from boats after the ferry caught fire and sank early on Friday had told them not to worry about a fire below deck and even ordered them to take off lifejackets.

Officials at the el-Salam Maritime Transport Company, which owned the Al Salam 98, were not immediately available to answer the allegations.

Rescue workers have recovered 195 bodies from the Red Sea and saved 389 people but about 800 more, most of them Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia, are missing. The survivors said a fire broke out below deck shortly after the 35-year-old vessel left the Saudi port of Duba on Thursday evening with 1,272 passengers and a crew of about 100.

The ship began to list but the crew continued to sail out into the Red Sea rather than turn back to the Saudi port, they told reporters in the Egyptian port of Safaga, where the ferry should have landed early on Friday.

Egyptian survivor Shahata Ali said the passengers had told the captain about the fire but he told them not to worry. “We were wearing lifejackets but they told us there was nothing wrong, told us to take them off and they took away the lifejackets.

Then the boat started to sink and the captain took a boat and left,” he added, speaking to Reuters Television. “The captain was the first to leave and we were surprised to see the boat sinking,” added Khaled Hassan, another survivor. Other survivors also reported that the crew played down the gravity of the situation and withheld lifejackets.

“There was a fire but the crew stopped the people from putting on lifejackets so that it wouldn’t cause a panic,” said Abdel Raouf Abdel Nabi, one of the survivors.

“There was a blaze down below. The crew said “don’t worry, we will put it out.” When things got really bad the crew just went off in the lifeboats and left us on board,” said Nader Galal Abdel Shafi, another arrival on the same rescue boat.

First Published: Feb 05, 2006 14:11 IST