Court affirms defendant conviction in ferry disaster

Safaga Misdemeanor Court on Wednesday rejected the appeal of a defendant in the case of the 2006 sinking of Al-Salam 98 ferry, which caused more than 1,000 deaths.

The appeal was submitted by Mamdouh Abdel Qader Oraby, director of the maritime fleet at Al-Salam Maritime Transport, who was sentenced to three years of prison in March 2009.

The ferry sank in the Red Sea on 3 February 2006, about 90 km from the port of Safaga in southern Egypt. It had been traveling from the Saudi port of Daba with about 1,400 people and 220 vehicles on board. About 1,034 people died in the accident, most of whom were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, as well as people who had traveled to the kingdom on pilgrimage.

Oraby’s attorney had requested he be acquitted because of the statute of limitations on the case. He asked for the reversal of the 2009 verdict against his client and the other defendants, including ferry owner Mamdouh Ismail, who was sentenced to seven years in prison but is currently in the UK.

Security forces arrested Oraby, who had been sentenced to prison in March 2009, in the King Mariot neighborhood in Alexandria in April 2011. He appealed the verdict and Safaga Misdemeanor Court granted him a retrial.

In the justification of the verdict supporting the defendant's imprisonment, the court stated the invalidity of the defense arguing the statute of limitations. The court said that since one of the defendants, Salah Gomaa, captain of the St. Catherine ferry, which failed to assist during the disaster, appealed his imprisonment before the Court of Cassation, the statute of limitations was renewed.

The verdict reject the appeal was issued amid tight security, with presence of a large number of victims’ family members, as well as the defendant's family.

Tariq Sharaf al-Din, who lost his wife and children in the ferry, has demanded the fast implementation of the rulings against the rest of the defendants. He also demanded that the UK authorities be asked to arrest Ismail.

Government reports attributed the sinking of the ferry to a fire in one of its engines which spread to its parking garage. But independent reports said the safety precautions used on the ferry were limited, with a lack of sufficient lifeboats for the passengers, and said the crew had allowed too many passengers on board, surpassing the boat’s capacity.

Opposition newspapers accused the government of helping Ismail and his son travel to London before the attorney general issued a warrant for his arrest. Ismail was a member of the Shura Council for the former National Democratic Party. The defendants were all acquitted in 2008, before the 2009 retrial.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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