Navy officials misled fishermen’s families into thinking they had rescued 11 fishermen lost at sea, only for the boat’s captain to contact the families with news that five of his men were dead and the rest of the crew were still in peril.
The boat has since been recovered but no bodies were found. Contact with the fishermen was lost on the night of 7 January and all of them are presumed dead.
The families will take legal action according to Islam Abdel Khaleq, lawyer with Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.
Abdel Khaleq said: “Everything we have heard from the media regarding this story is wrong. On Monday 7 December, at 10 am, the fishermen took their boat to the Ras El-Hekma area, 70km off the coast of Matruh, to avoid the storm.”
He added that he had sat down with fishermen from the area who gave him a narrative completely different to what the military and presidency have been announcing.
After a wave broke part of the boat, the fishermen contacted their families and asked for help. The boat, Zamzam, is equipped with a GPS system, which can assist rescue missions in locating it.
Some of the families went to the navy command stationed in Abu Qir and met with a captain identified as Essam. The others went to the Matruh governor who told them there was nothing he could do.
Captain Essam told the families on Monday afternoon that the fishermen had all been saved and transported to a Matruh hospital. He also sent a messenger to the nearby mosque to spread the word. He then deployed Special Forces personnel to break up a protest at the port demanding the rescue of the stranded men.
Later in the evening Mohamed Ibrahim, the Zamzam captain, got in contact with the families and said five of his men had already died.
Abdel Khaleq said: “Captain Mohamed told the families that only six were alive. He said that since they first made contact only one plane flew by and it dropped lifeboats too far to reach. One man drowned trying to swim to the lifeboats.”
Zamzam sent a distress signal to border guard forces only to receive word that the border guards were unequipped to rescue the fishermen. Meanwhile, the families went to the presidential guards and asked them to use presidential boats for the rescue, only to be turned away.
Abdel Khaleq said: “The presidential guards said the boats were not there and that they were only available when the president is visiting. I don’t understand what they mean by that, does the president bring the boats with him from Cairo?”
Zamzam made last contact at 9 pm on Monday. The fishermen, resigned to their fate, said goodbye to their families. All the while Captain Essam from the navy was still maintaining they had been rescued.
The victims’ families are in the process of filing complaints against the commander of the navy, the navy command in Abu Qir, the commander of the Border Guards Forces, the Alexandria and Matruh governors and President Mohamed Morsy himself.
At the time presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said President Mohamed Morsy had asked Minister of Defence, Abdel Fattah, and the governor of Matruh, Ahmed Hilmi Alheiatmi, to keep him informed of developments.
The military said Al-Sisi had ordered two helicopters and a C-130 transport aircraft, as well as warships from Alexandria, 240 kilometres to the east, to search for the crew.
The boat was eventually found on Tuesday and three of the four life rafts the Navy deployed were found on Wednesday, no bodies were found.