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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06CAIRO689 2006-02-05 16:21:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

EGYPT FERRY DISASTER UPDATE

Tags:   PREL ECON EWWT MARR EG 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000689 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON EWWT MARR EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT FERRY DISASTER UPDATE

REF: A. EMBASSY CAIRO - OPS CENTER TELCONS

B. 05 CAIRO 08036

Sensitive But Unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

-------
Summary
-------



1. (SBU) Despite some recent rescues, hopes are fading for
the approximately 830 passengers still missing after the
sinking of the Egyptian passenger ferry "Al Salam Boccacio
98" during its transit from Dubah, Saudi Arabia to Safaga,
Egypt. Embassy Cairo has been in close contact with GOE
counterparts to offer condolences, offer and coordinate
assistance in search and rescue and the investigation, and to
confirm that no Americans were known to be involved in the
disaster. The GOE has been appreciative of U.S. efforts in
aiding the search and rescue, noting that the U.S. was the
first nation to offer assistance. END SUMMARY.



--------------------------


Update


--------------------------





2. (SBU) As of February 5, many questions remain as to the
exact cause of the February 3 sinking of the Egyptian
passenger Ferry "Al Salam Boccacio 98." Rescue efforts are
ongoing, with MoD contacts informing OMC that one further
survivor was rescued at approximately 1500 hrs local time on
February 5. Despite that, the number of victims far exceeds
the number of rescued, and the final death toll will approach
1,000. Ministry of Transport officials are in the port of
Safaga to help coordinate rescue efforts and begin the
investigation process.



3. (SBU) As unrest continues in Safaga between passengers'
families and Egyptian police, the GOE has provided few
details as to the formation of an investigation team,
although industry contacts tell us that a broad panel is
being formed that will include private sector and academic
participants. Ministry of Transport officials are stating
that a fire in one of the car parking areas precipitated the
incident, but survivor accounts are pointing to serious
breaches of safety protocols aboard the aging ferry. One of
the ferry's sister ships, the "Al Salam 95," sunk in October
2005 after colliding with a Cypriot cargo ship near the
southern entrance of the Suez Canal (Ref B), albeit with
minimal casualties.



--------------------------


USG/MFO Response


--------------------------





4. (SBU) Upon learning of the incident on Friday, February 3
around 1245 hrs Cairo time, Embassy sections reached out to
GOE counterparts, industry contacts, coalition military
allies and the MFO. CONS contacted Egyptian State Security
to request a passenger manifest and receive an initial
estimate of casualties and breakdown of passenger
nationalities. State Security responded about 60 minutes
later, indicating that there was possibly one Canadian among
the passengers but apparently no Amcits on board. CONS and
ConGen Jeddah confirmed through host nation contacts that
there were no known Amcits aboard the ferry. Egyptian State
Security announced that of the 1,318 manifested passengers
and crew, there were 1201 Egyptians (including 99 crew
members), 99 Saudis, 6 Syrians, 4 Palestinians, 1 Omani, 1
Emirati, 1 Yemeni, 1 Sudanese, 1 Indonesian, 1 Jordanian and
1 Canadian on board.



5. (SBU) Cairo Naval Attache contacted NAVCENT Bahrain to
inquire about available assets to assist in the operation.
NAVCENT initially ordered the UK warship the HMS Bulwark to
turn around and head to the site and assist operations, with
an estimated 36-48 hours steaming time to sunken ferry's
position. Cairo DAO contacted Egyptian Navy Commodore
Mamdouh to ask if the Egyptian Armed Forces desired
assistance in the search and rescue operation if USG assets
were in a position to respond. After initially turning down
assistance, the GOE asked for help. When conveying Egypt's
willingness to accept the assistance, Commodore Mamdouh
expressed the GOE's appreciation and noted that the U.S. was
the first country to offer assistance.



6. (SBU) NAVCENT recalled the HMS Bulwark when word arrived
that the USNS Benavidez was transiting the Suez Canal on
February 4 and would be redirected to the rescue mission,
arriving at approximately the same time estimated for the
Bulwark. The USNS Benavidez passed through the area but did
not report any sightings of bodies, wreckage or survivors.



7. (SBU) NAVCENT also readied a Djibouti-based U.S. Navy P-3
aircraft awaiting GOE request for assistance. Upon receipt
of the request for assistance from Commodore Mamdouh, the
aircraft was sortied at 2100 hrs February 3, arriving on
station at about 0500 February 4 to begin operations with
Egyptian Navy and MFO assets on the scene. MFO dispatched
two Italian ships from Sharm El Sheikh, a Twin Otter aircraft
and a UH-60. The MFO vessels, working with the airborne P-3
aircraft, rescued 8 survivors and recovered 3 dead. The P-3
stayed until about 1630 on February 4 and returned to base
due to mechanical problems. The aircraft was prepared to
return but the GOE did not request that it do so.



8. (SBU) Legatt is in communication with FBI Headquarters to
determine what, if any, technical assistance or resources
could be brought to bear if requested by the GOE. DAO passed
to Commodore Mamdouh the NTSB's offer of sending a maritime
investigation officer to assist with the inquiry. Mamdouh
said he would consult with the various stakeholder
ministries. A/DCM also passed this offer to the Ministry of
Transportation. ECPO reiterated Embassy condolences and
offers of U.S. assistance to the office of Admiral Shireen
Hassan, head of the Maritime Transport Sector of the Ministry
of Transportation. Admiral Hassan is currently in Safaga
managing Egyptian response efforts. PA posted a press
release on the Embassy website offering condolences and
re-emphasizing U.S. support, and handled press inquires.



--------------------------


Initial Press Reactions


--------------------------





9. (SBU) The ferry disaster garnered immediate international
and domestic press attention. As of February 4, all papers
and television news led with the story of the ship's
disappearance and Mubarak's visit to Hurghada. Television
images showed protesting families stoning police at port
stations, and both satellite and terrestrial stations hosted
transportation and safety officials on evening talk shows
describing compensation schemes for victims' families, and
defending against accusations of a lack of safety standards.
By February 5, commentators in independent and pro-government
papers began critical remarks about the government's
response. For example, columns in Al-Masry Al-Yom railed
against the government's "rush to make denials about the
sunken ferry before an investigation has been conducted",
while Al-Ahram published a call on the government "to deal
with the catastrophe openly and honestly" and Al-Akhbar
printed the claim that "accidents happen not coincidentally,
but as the result of a long hi
story of negligence and poor planning." Al-Gomhouriyya
published columns supporting the government and praising
Mubarak "for standing by the people in the disaster" and
"encouraging the search and rescuing of many people."

RICCIARDONE