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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 16:15 GMT
Captain 'unable' to aid survivors
al-Salam Boccaccio 98
The al-Salam Boccaccio '98 was sailing in poor weather
A ferry captain has said he did not pick up survivors from the Egytian boat which sank on Friday in order to protect his own passengers.

Salah Jum'ah told Egypt's al-Ahram he had communicated with a lifeboat from the al-Salam Boccaccio '98, but had not turned back to rescue them.

He had wanted to avoid a "second catastrophe", he said, adding that he had sent out signals to other boats.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has declared another ship from the same firm unsafe.

Officials in Duba say the al-Salam '94 does not meet safety standards.

Conflicting reports

About 1,000 people died when the al-Salam Boccaccio '98 went down on Friday.

There have been conflicting reports about whether the crew ever sent out a distress signal.

According to Salah Jum'ah, his ferry Saint Catherine had tried to establish a signal with the boat. He failed, but finally made radio contact with the lifeboat.

"I took the decision not to go back in order to protect the lives of the 1,800 passengers with me on the St Catherine, fearing that the ship would overturn when I turned around - especially given that the weather conditions were bad and the height of the waves were more than you could imagine," he told the paper.

He added he was told by the firm that the chairman of the board, Mamduh Salim, was aware of his decision and asked him to continue to port.

A spokesman for the company, Mamdouh Oraby, said the Saint Catherine was too far away from the lifeboat and had a full capacity of passengers.

Mr Jum'ah dropped off his passengers then returned to take part in search and rescue efforts, says Mr Oraby.

A high-speed boat, the al-Salam Elanora, was dispatched to pick up the survivors, rescuing 154 people in all, he added.

Both ships were operated by El-Salam Maritime, whose offices in the port of Safaga were ransacked on Monday by hundreds of angry relatives of those killed.

There were 1,450 people on board when the al-Salam Boccaccio '98 sank after a fire broke out, and it is thought that about 1,000 of them died.

Most of the passengers were Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, and others were said to be pilgrims returning from Mecca.

The accident has prompted accusations of negligence, with the crew accused of ignoring warnings to evacuate after the fire broke out on board and the ship began to list.

And the anger of relatives has increased because of a lack of information about their loved ones.


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