July 31st, 2008
10:48 AM ET

The ferry sank – then justice, too

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/07/31/art.egyptmom.jpg caption="A mother screams following the verdict by an Egyptian court over the 2006 ferry accident in the port city of Safaga, 600km from the capital Cairo on Sunday."]

Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN senior editor for Arab affairs

A mother screams at the top of her lungs.. Accusing the Egyptian judicial system of corruption.

She's joined by other families who came to an Egyptian court expecting a conviction and a maximum sentence. Instead, they witnessed an acquittal of five men they believe are responsible for their loved ones' death.

Arab media were on hand to report the outrage and provide context.

In 2006 a ferry carrying some fourteen hundred people–mostly pilgrims and workers–from Saudi Arabia to Egypt sank in the Red Sea.. resulting in the death of more than a thousand people.

The Dubai-based Al-Arabiya tracked the last hours of the ferry and reported the following about the investigation:

  1. The recovered data recorder proved that the ferry's owner knew there had been a fire on board but gave orders to continue on instead of returning to port as the captain had requested.
  2. The ferry did not have functional life boats or life preservers.
  3. Another boat passing in the area received a distressed signal from the sinking ferry but did not stop or try to help.

Two years after the tragedy, at the Egyptian court, the boat owner - a parliament member who left Egypt shortly after the ferry sank and has not returned since - is cleared of any wrongdoing along with four others. Only the captain of the boat who did not stop to help was sentenced to six months in jail.

On her FaceBook page, Egyptian columnist Mona El-Tahawi expressed shock immediately after the verdict.

"Can't believe the ferry owner and his son were acquitted." She exclaimed. "Are Egyptian lives worth nothing?" She asked.

In the Lebanese Newspaper Al Akhbar, Wael Abdel Fattah writes under the headline "Protecting Corruption in Egypt"

"The victims' cry for help fell on deaf ears... But it reinforced the belief that Corruption is a mass murderer."

An opinion echoed on Arab networks, but refuted by those sympathetic to the Egyptian court. One of them told Al-Arabiya, "These accusations are nonsense. The judgment reflects the truth of what happened. The law in Egypt is independent and fair."

On Al-Jazeera, reporter Omar al-Kahki offered an emotional conclusion to his report. He said, "Those who died may have found eternal peace but their families will continue to endure pain and suffering."

While Egypt's prosecutor general filed an appeal, the anti-government newspaper Egypt Daily News published a Wanted poster for the ferry's owner signaling this is certainly not the end.

Filed under: Global 360° • Octavia Nasr
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. lynda......san diego

    It is so sad that these people have lost their loved ones & seem to be unable to get any justice for their deaths. I hope there is some resolution to this horrible situation. I second Mona El-Tawahi when she asks "Are Egyptians lives worth nothing?" ALL human life should have great value, even though some people evidently don't think so. Egyptians lives are worth as much as anyones, maybe worth more than the boat owner, the people that acquitted the ferry owner & son & the capt that did not stop to help. RIP to the victims & may God ease the pain & suffering of their loved ones left behind.


    July 31, 2008 at 11:49 pm |
  2. Janna

    Are Egypt’s courts set up for personal/civil lawsuits? The families of over a thousand victims are not only mourning, but now victims themselves. I hope there is a way for them to come together for justice.

    July 31, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  3. Janna

    Are Egypt's courts set up for personal/civic lawsuits? The families of over a thousand victims are not only mourning, but now victims themselves. I hope there is a way for them to come together for justice.

    July 31, 2008 at 11:08 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    Obtaining justice for victims shouldn't be so hard but it is regardless of the country. I feel for the families of the people who died and hope that one day they will at least see some justice for their dead loved ones.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 31, 2008 at 8:55 pm |
  5. Cindy

    HMMM...it seems corruption reigns supreme in all countries governments not just ours!

    It is insane that the owner of the ferry and his son were acquitted yet the captain of the boat that didn't stop to help them got 6 months in jail. That is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard of! If there was no wrong doing by the ferry owner then why did the captain get time in jail?

    I hope that the prosecutor general can win the appeal and get justice for those that died.


    July 31, 2008 at 11:10 am |