Page last updated at 12:22 GMT, Monday, 5 June 2006 13:22 UK

Egypt ferry sinking trial opens

Relatives try to identify victims of the ferry disaster
About 1,000 died after a fire broke out on board leading to the sinking

A trial has opened in Egypt into the sinking of a ferry last February in which more than 1,000 people died.

The man the authorities have accused of being chiefly responsible for the disaster - the owner of the al-Salam ferry, Mamduh Ismail - was not present.

He left Egypt for the UK after the sinking and Cairo has issued a summons against him through Interpol.

In April, a parliamentary investigation criticised the ship's owners, maritime authorities and the government.

'Wicked collaboration'

The investigation found that there had been "wicked collaboration" between the company that owned the Egyptian ferry and the maritime authorities.

It said the ferry failed to meet minimum safety standards and that the agency responsible for maritime safety allowed it to sail despite being aware of its state.

The ferry apparently did not have enough lifeboats or fire-fighting equipment.

The parliamentary investigation also criticised the Egyptian government for its handling of the crisis.

Mr Ismail has denied responsibility for the disaster and accused the ship's captain, who went down with his ship, of overestimating the crew's ability to fight a fire that broke out on board.

Only 388 people survived after the al-Salam Boccaccio 98 sank in the Red Sea on 3 February.

The ferry was crossing from the port of Duba in Saudi Arabia to Safaga in Egypt, where the inquiry is taking place.

The passengers were mostly Egyptian workers.

Egyptians were shocked at the huge death toll and there was more outrage when it emerged that Mr Ismail, a well-connected businessman, was allowed to leave the country before investigations were completed.

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