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EGYPT: Mystery looms over crash of ferries

FerryThe weekend crash of two ferries on the Nile River between the cities of Rashid and Kafr El Sheikh in northern Egypt has left many wondering exactly what happened and how many people may be missing or dead.

The accident occurred Friday when a ferry overloaded with passengers traveling from Rashid to Kafr El Sheikh broke in half after being struck by a smaller, swift-moving boat. So far, officials have confirmed that six people were injured and 13 others were saved from drowning.

Although governors and police authorities insist that no bodies were found after sweeping the area for 26 hours, survivors say the ferry had no fewer than 50 passengers on board, most of whom vanished after the crash.

"The ferry's driver kept asking for more people to hop on board until there were at least 70 of us. We complained that we were too many, but he didn’t care," one survivor told the Egyptian media. "Luckily, I can swim and I managed to stay alive and save another older woman. But I've seen some horrible scenes of helpless people drowning."

A number of newspapers and television channels doubted the version given by authorities, accusing them of not putting enough effort into searching for bodies. Authorities responded by saying that no one had been officially reported missing. Owners of the ferry and the boat, as well as their drivers, have been in custody since the general prosecutor ordered a formal investigation.

Negligence

Citizens of Rashid and Kafr El Sheikh have long depended on what they call poor people's boats to  travel daily between the two cities. Another eyewitness of the collision said this accident was not the first of its kind.

"Every time we've had a disaster like this, we call on officials to build a bridge attaching the two cities, but no one ever listens to our demands," says Sayed Saber. "The governorate ended the river public transportation service instead of maintaining and developing it. Now, we have no other choice but these unsafe boats, otherwise we will need to take a 40-kilometer car journey."

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Rescuers search the Nile River after the collision of two ferries on Dec. 4, 2009.  Credit: Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

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