Crowd attacks Egypt ferry office

Hundreds of relatives of passengers drowned on a Red Sea ferry attacked the offices of the owners Monday, throwing its furniture into the street and burning the company's signboard.

Riot police intervened and fired tear gas to restore order.The mob broke into the offices of El Salam Maritime in this Red Sea port early in the morning and began throwing everything out into the street.

The rioters took a large photo of one of the company's ferries and burned it in the middle of the road. They also tore down the company's signboard from the front of the building and set it on fire.Rescuers pulled only a handful more survivors from the Red Sea on Sunday. A total of 195 bodies have been recovered so far, suggesting the final death toll may reach 1,000.

Family members accused the government of mishandling the rescue and aftermath, while lawmakers called for investigations and said the ship's owner had been responsible for previous disasters.

Survivors also continued to come forward with tales of crew errors made after a fire broke out on board before the ship sank. Some survivors alleged the ship's captain and crew members had jumped into a lifeboat rather than stay with the ship. Egyptian officials said the captain was missing.

Police on Sunday put the number of those rescued at 401 -- up by 25 from the day before and an indication that few more survivors would be found. A total of 195 bodies have been recovered.

Among the survivors was 5-year-old Mohammed Ahmed Hassan who was at sea for more than 20 hours, kept afloat by a life ring. Doctors at Hurghada General Hospital said the boy was in good condition but apparently had lost his parents, sister and brother.

The Al Salam Boccaccio 98 was carrying more than 1,400 passengers and crew and 220 cars when it quickly sank early Friday about 55 miles from the Egyptian port of Hurghada. Most of the passengers were poor Egyptian workers returning from Saudi Arabia.

Outside the port in Safaga where survivors were being taken, about 100 protesters shouted angrily at police and criticized Egypt's president for not providing more information. On Saturday, similar demonstrations turned violent as family members threw stones at police.

"If you don't have the bodies, at least give us (death) certificates and let us go. You have been torturing us for days," shouted Heshmat Mohammed Hassan from Sohag, whose brother is still missing, as he stood in front of a line of policemen welding batons. He and others criticized the government for what they called slow response to the disaster.

The families need death certificates to claim a payment of $5,200 that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has said should go to the family of each victim. The president said survivors would each get $2,600.

Mubarak flew to Hurghada, about 40 miles farther north, on Saturday and visited survivors in two hospitals. But television pictures of the visit, which normally would have carried sound of Mubarak's conversations, were silent.Mubarak has ordered an investigation into the ferry sinking.

But independent Egyptian newspapers have accused his government of protecting the ship's owner, who they say is close to a top official in Mubarak's government. The weekly independent paper Soutelomma, often critical of the government, said two other ferries owned by the same company had sunk in the past 10 years, without the government properly investigating or putting the company's owner on trial.

The ship was owned by El Salam Maritime, which issued a statement declaring the vessel complied "with all the international safety regulations and treaties and (was) certified to make international voyages."

Lawmaker Mustafa al-Bakri, part of a delegation of 20 members of parliament who went to the port, said the delegation would try to investigate why Egyptian officials did not receive any distress call from the ship."The question of whether the captain sent any SOS messages or not will be the subject of much discussion in the parliament, but we will not make arbitrary accusations," he said, reports CNN.

I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team