CAIRO // At least eight people were reported to have died and dozens missing after two passenger ferries collided on Friday evening on the Nile river. But Egyptian rescue workers ended a search yesterday for people who were thought missing and police now say that initial estimates of about 20 missing passengers were wrong and that no one died in the accident late on Friday near the northern city of Rosetta.
No bodies have been recovered and there have been no missing persons reports filed, police said. Reuters news agency originally put the number of missing - mostly women and children - at 80 and opposition legislators claimed in parliament yesterday that the government was prematurely abandoning the search for bodies. The general prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud yesterday ordered an investigation into the collision between the two ferries, which took place near Port Rachid, Alexandria.
Counsellor Yasser el-Rifaei, the general lawyer of the Alexandria prosecutor's office, ordered yesterday the remand of the pilots of the two vessels for four days pending investigation. They were accused of unintentionally killing and injuring their passengers and not abiding by river safety regulations, according to a report on MENA, Egypt's official news agency. Also yesterday, several lawmakers presented urgent queries in parliament about the accident, blaming it on the recklessness of the young pilots, government laxity in monitoring the implementation of safety regulations and of mismanaging the rescue.
The website of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, quoted a woman named Sabah who was injured along with her daughter in the collision, and who blamed the accident on the two pilots of the motorboats. She claimed they joked and piloted recklessly, until the smaller ferry hit the larger one, which Sabah was aboard, breaking it in half while the smaller vessel capsized. The collision took place around 6pm Friday.
Abdel Hamid Zaghloul, the Brotherhood lawmaker of the Port Rachid area, complained at parliament yesterday about the failure of rescue teams of find any corpses 20 hours after the accident, and that he feared that many victims' bodies have floated downstream and are stuck in fish farms about 10 kilometres from the Mediterranean. "Human tragedy in Rachid," read the headline of Al-Ahram yesterday, Egypt's largest-circulation, state-owned daily. The paper said that six had been hospitalised, and that three bodies had been recovered, including two children.
Such tragedies occur frequently in Egypt, especially in the transportation sector, and are blamed mainly on poor infrastructure and inept rescue efforts. In February 2006, a ferry in the Red Sea caught fire and sank en route to Egypt from Saudi Arabia, killing 1,034 of the 1,400 people on board, in one of the deadliest disasters in modern maritime history. An Egyptian appeals court in March this year found Mamdouh Ismail, the owner of the ferry, guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him, in absentia, to seven years in jail. Mr Ismail used his parliamentary immunity and fled to London.
Transport Minister Mohamed Mansour resigned in October over a train crash south of Cairo that killed 18 people. His post is still vacant. Egypt's former transport minister, Ibrahim al Demeri, was forced to resign in February 2002 following the country's worst ever train fire, which claimed more than 370 lives as poor workers were travelling home to upper Egypt to celebrate Eid with their families.
firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and Reuters