CAIRO: The captain of a Red Sea ferry has admitted that he steered clear of a doomed ship that sank between Saudi Arabia and Egypt last week, leaving at least 1,000 people feared dead, rather than help rescue survivors so as not to endanger his own passengers.
I took the decision not to turn around to protect the lives of the 1,800 passengers on board the Saint Catherine which was headed for the Saudi port of Duba, captain Salah Jomaa told Tuesday s edition of the government daily Al-Ahram.
The Al-Salam Boccaccio 98, which like the Saint Catherine belonged to the Al-Salam shipping company, sank en route from Duba to the Egyptian port of Safaga after an onboard fire, in one of the worst maritime disasters in living memory.
Jomaa said turning to aid the stricken vessel could have sunk his own vessel, especially as the weather conditions were bad and the waves high.
Al-Salam had radioed the Saint Catherine to ask whether the captain could turn back and mount a rescue effort for the Al-Salam Boccaccio 98, which was carrying 1,400 people when it sank.
I replied in the negative and they informed me during the course of the conversation that company director Mamdouh Ismail was asking me to continue on my course to avoid a second catastrophe, said Jomaa.
The captain said he alerted all other vessels in the area to come to the rescue of survivors.
Maritime authorities in Egypt have decided to suspend Jomaa, who said the decision was taken because of a row he had with a member of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the tragedy.
The Safaga offices of the owners of the ferry were ransacked Monday as anger over the fate of missing loved-ones boiled over into violence.
According to the company, 426 people have been pulled from the sea, leaving close to 1,000 dead or missing. But government spokesman Magdi Radi told reporters that the number of survivors so far stood at 388. AFP