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Middle East
Egypt court overturns ferry verdict
Vessel owner sentenced to seven years in jail for incident that claimed 1,000 lives in 2006.
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2009 19:00 GMT
The majority of those travelling on the doomed vessel were Egyptian migrant workers [AFP]

The owner of an Egyptian ferry that sank two years ago, killing more than 1,000 people, has been sentenced to seven years in jail for involuntary manslaughter after an appeals court overturned a previous verdict.

The court on Wednesday issued its sentence in absentia against Mamdouh Ismail, owner of the Al-Salam 98 ferry, which sank in the Red Sea while en route to Egypt from Saudi Arabia in February 2006.

Amr el-Kakhy, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo, said: "Ismail is not in Egypt, he is said to be residing in London at the moment, but today's verdict has come as some sort of vindication for the victims' families.

"The general prosecutor was the one who appealed against the first verdict. He said the first verdict was faulty and that certain things had not been taken into consideration."

Interpol are not able to take action to bring Ismail back to Egypt until his case is referred to  the Egyptian supreme court, his last option for an appeal against the guilty verdict.

Anger at acquittal

Most of the 1,400 passengers on board the ferry were Egyptian migrant workers.

Ismail's acquittal in the first case in June 2008 sparked anger among the victims' families.

They said he was being protected because he was a member of Egypt's upper house of parliament at the time of the ferry disaster.

Two other defendants each received in absentia sentences of three years in prison, overturning earlier acquittals, a court official said on condition of anonymity.

Ismail had said he was not responsible for the incident and said that the ferry's captain had overestimated the crew's ability to fight a fire that had broken out on board.

Compensation deal

Ismail was ordered in June 2006 to pay 330 million Egyptian pounds ($57 million) towards compensating victims of the disaster in exchange for the lifting of a freeze on his assets.

A 2006 parliamentary commission of inquiry said that Ismail's Al-Salam company was responsible for the disaster.

It concluded that the vessel had put to sea despite having "serious defects".

It also said the government "failed to manage the crisis adequately" in the wake of the ferry's sinking.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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