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Cold nights for families awaiting news

"We are angry, the government's not doing anything," says a relative of the missing from doomed ferry Salaam 98.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2006 10:46 IST

Ten of them sit shivering on a solitary blanket given them by a resident of Safaga, a Red Sea port where relatives of the missing from doomed Egyptian ferry Al-Salam Boccaccio 98 wait for news.

The family of Abdel Rahim Mohed, 21, a worker in the cafeteria of the ferry which sank with 1,400 people on board, more than 800 of whom are listed as missing, prepare to spend their third night in Safaga although the prospect of good news is increasingly unlikely.

"We'll stay as long as it takes, another week if necessary" says Mohed's cousin Mohsen Nuraldin, a civil servant from Qina.

He took his holidays to come to Safaga where hundreds of men, relatives of the victims, await news of their fate.

"We came rushing here, without anything" explains Mohsen -- no luggage, only the clothes on their backs. "We didn't imagine we'd be staying for so long."

But the nights are long in Safaga: the sun goes down by 6 pm in the seaside resort and the heat of the day gives way to fierce cold from the desert.

"It's tough but we must stay," insists Mohsen.

Is his cousin alive? "Ninety per cent yes" interrupts another cousin, Tentawy Mohed, telling of a slide-show of bodies organised for the relatives to identify their loved ones.

"We are relieved because Abdel Rahim wasn't among them but that hurt me a lot. We saw those poor dead people with their faces changed (swollen with water as they lay in the Red Sea). They are not my cousins but they are Egyptians like Abdel Rahim. They were only trying to work to earn a bit of money for their families," said Mohsen.

"We are angry, the government's not doing anything" added another cousin, Hesmad Emary, who is from Hurghada 60 kilometres (35 miles) away.

On the sidewalks, on bits of waste ground and under flimsy shelters hundreds of relatives and friends of the passengers are already asleep. The street vendors who normally await the arrival of ships are also present: one pound for a glass of tea, 25 piastres for a water-pipe...

Saber Mohamed Suleyman, a gas station attendant from Asyut, is waiting with half a dozen family members for news of his cousin Said Ali Suleyman, a worker in Kuwait who was travelling with one of the few survivors of the accident, Ibrahim Ateya Meetyli, who also worked in Kuwait.

"We managed to talk with him. They slept in the same room. When the fire broke out they both went up on deck. Ibrahim got into a lifeboat but he lost sight of Said. Inch'allah Said managed to take one too," said Saber who closed his gas station.

"It's money lost for sure, but that's not important," he said. Arriving without any baggage he has slept on the bare ground since Friday evening. If there is no news, he will stay there till Monday night.

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 10:46 IST