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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Payout over Egypt ferry disaster
Relatives try to identify victims of the ferry disaster
About 1,000 died after a fire broke out on board leading to the sinking
The fugitive owner of an Egyptian ferry that sank last February with the loss of 1,000 lives has paid $57m into a compensation fund for the victims.

In return, a freeze on the assets of ferry owner Mamduh Ismail will be lifted, Egyptian prosecutors announced.

The family of each passenger who died will receive $50,000 in compensation.

Mr Ismail left Egypt after the al-Salam Boccaccio 98 sank in the Red Sea. Cairo has issued an arrest warrant against him through Interpol.

The transfer of the money does not affect the charges of manslaughter he is facing.

Mr Ismail, who is believed to be in Britain, is accused of failing to inform the authorities when he was told there were problems on board the ferry.

He 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.

'Wicked collaboration'

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says Egyptian public opinion was shocked when Mr Ismail was allowed to leave the country two weeks after the disaster.

The case of Mr Ismail - a wealthy businessman who is close to senior officials - fed concerns about corruption in high places, our correspondent adds.

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

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

It said the ferry failed to meet minimum safety standards and added 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 trial of six people accused in connection with the sinking opened on Monday - despite the absence of Mr Ismail, who is the main defendant.


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