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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 12:11 GMT
Poor communication fuels ferry anger
By Ian Pannell
BBC News, Safaga, Egypt

Men sitting waiting for news in port of Safaga
Many people have been frustrated at the lack of information

The atmosphere in this port town is extremely volatile.

Hundreds of families have waited for more than three days for information about relatives feared dead after a ferry sank.

Some details have emerged but most still have no answers.

Early this morning their frustration again boiled over. Hundreds of people attacked the office of Al-Salam Maritime, the ferry operator.

The people here want to know the whereabouts of their family members.

Media reports

The other reason for this new wave of anger is that the media has been full of stories about what exactly went wrong.

The way this has been handled from the beginning has fuelled the sense of anger
Tales from survivors and reports from newspapers and officials paint a picture of incompetence by the ferry company.

There have been accusations of inadequate safety on board.

Survivors say a fire began just one hour after setting sail from the Saudi port of Duba. People are demanding to know why the ferry did not turn back.

Some of the survivors have said they asked for the ferry to be brought back into port.

The area around me here now looks like a building site.

People have set fire to rubbish. They have burned furniture and sacked the premises. Tyres have been set alight and a fire engine that was called in was also attacked.

The police responded with teargas and there have been some arrests.

Cock-up

I am surrounded by large lumps of concrete, broken glass and other things that have been set on fire.

The air is thick with the smell of ash.

The way this has been handled from the beginning has fuelled the sense of anger.

The company has effectively been closed down now by the Egyptian government.

It is really more cock-up than conspiracy.

There has been no pro-active offering of information even if they have not had any information, they have not dealt directly with people. The authorities have only responded to criticism.

This has allowed people to sit outside and stew in that sense of frustration.

The only information has come from police. And most officers have come armed with batons and truncheons to hold crowds back.

So there has been nothing that may have at least gone towards placating the situation.

Many of these families have not only lost their loved ones, but in many cases the main breadwinner. Until they get answers this anger is unlikely to go away.




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