Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Jail term for Egypt ferry owner

The al-Salam Boccaccio (undated photo)
More than 1,000 people died when the ferry sank in February, 2006

An Egyptian appeals court has sentenced the owner of a ferry that sank killing more than 1,000 people to seven years in prison for involuntary manslaughter.

The ruling overturns Mamduh Ismail's acquittal over the 2006 sinking of the Al-Salam Boccaccio 98 in the Red Sea.

That ruling had outraged many in Egypt who believed the businessman was being protected by his political connections.

Ismail is believed to be in Europe and was sentenced in absentia. He denies being responsible for the sinking.

Hundreds of victims' family members who packed the courtroom in the Red Sea port city of Safaga responded to the verdict with applause and shouts of "Long live justice!", the Associated Press news agency reported.

Pirate protest

Outside the courtroom, some family members danced and wailed, and some held pictures of their dead relatives and waved banners, one of which read "Punish those who killed my son".

A man dressed as a pirate - with an iron hook, black eye-patch and holding a plastic sword - wore a sign that read "Mamduh Ismail the pirate", next to an image of skull and crossbones, AP said.

The court also sentenced two other defendants in absentia to three years in prison each over the tragedy, but acquitted two.

Following the disaster, the fugitive owner of the ferry paid $57m (41.3m) into a compensation fund for the victims - about $50,000 for each family of those killed. In return, a freeze on his assets was lifted.

Ismail, a former MP, has 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.

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