MS al-Salam Boccaccio 98

al-Salam Boccaccio 98 in Genoa, 2001
Name: Boccaccio
Port of registry:  Italy
Builder: Italcantieri S.p.A. of Monfalcone, Italy
Laid down: 22 August 1968
Launched: 8 June 1969
Completed: 30 June 1970
Refit: 1991
Identification: IMO number: 6921282
Fate: Sold in 1999 to El Salam Maritime Transport.
Name: MS al-Salam Boccaccio 98
Owner: Pacific Sunlight Marine Incorporated of Panama
Operator: El Salam Maritime Transport
Port of registry:  Egypt
Acquired: 1999
Fate: Capsized and sank on 3 February 2006.
General characteristics
Type: Ro/Ro passenger ferry
Length: 130.99 m
Beam: 23.6 m
  • 5.57 m (as built)
  • 5.9 m (after refit)
Speed: 19 kn (35 km/h)
  • Passengers:
    • 1,000 (as built)
    • 1,310 (after refit)
  • Car capacity:
    • 200 (as built)
    • 320 (after refit)
Crew: 105 crew

The MS al-Salam Boccaccio 98 was an Egyptian Ro/Ro passenger ferry, operated by El Salam Maritime Transport, that sank on 3 February 2006 in the Red Sea en route from Duba, Saudi Arabia, to Safaga in southern Egypt.

The ship was carrying about 1400 passengers and crew. The majority are thought to have been Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, but they included pilgrims returning from the Hajj in Mecca. The ship was also carrying about 220 vehicles.[1] No Mayday had been heard from the ship and poor weather conditions hampered the search and rescue operation. 388 people were rescued.[2]

The immediate cause of the sinking appears to have been a build-up of sea-water in the hull, when the fire-fighters were trying to extinguish a fire in the engine-room. This was compounded by design faults inherent in Ro/Ro vessels, where minor flooding of the deck can gain rapid momentum (‘free surface effect’). When the captain asked permission to return to port, the ship’s owners ordered him to continue, despite knowing that there had been a fire. The owners were jailed in 2009 after their original acquittal was overturned.

Ship history

The vessel was built by the Italian company Italcantieri in 1970 with IMO number 6921282 and named the Boccaccio at Monfalcone, Italy for Tirrenia di Navigazione. It was originally intended for Italian domestic service.[3] Its dimensions were 130.99 m length overall with 23.60 m beam and 5.57 m draft. The main engines were rated at 16,560 kW for a maximum speed of 19 knots. The vessel had an original capacity of 200 automobiles and 1000 passengers.[4] Five sister ships were built.

The vessel was rebuilt in 1991 by INMA at La Spezia, maintaining the same outer dimensions albeit with a higher superstructure, changing the draught to 5.90 m. At the same time its automobile capacity was increased to 320 and the passenger capacity was increased to 1,300. The most recent gross registered tonnage was 11,799.

The Boccaccio was purchased in 1999 by El Salam Maritime Transport, headquartered in Cairo, the largest private shipping company in Egypt and the Middle East, and renamed al-Salam Boccaccio 98 (Arabic: عبارة السلام 98, Salam سلام means "peace"); the registered owner is Pacific Sunlight Marine Inc. of Panama. She is also referred to as Salam 98.

The sinking

Its last known position was 100 km (62 mi) from Duba, when it lost contact with the shore at about 22:00 EET (20:00 UTC).[5] First reports[6] of statements by survivors indicated that smoke from the engine room was followed by a fire which continued for some time. There were also reports of the ship listing soon after leaving port and that, after continuing for some hours, the list became severe and the ship capsized within 10 minutes as the crew fought the fire. In a BBC radio news broadcast an Egyptian ministerial spokesman said the fire had started in a storage area, was controlled, but started again. The significance of the fire was supported by statements attributed to crew members who were reported to claim that "the firefighters essentially sank the ship when sea water they used to battle the fire collected in the hull because drainage pumps were not working."[7]

Weather conditions

The Red Sea is known for its strong winds and tricky local currents.[8] The region had been experiencing high winds and dust storms for several days at the time of the sinking. These winds may have contributed to the disaster and may have complicated rescue efforts.

The closest maritime weather report[9] for 3 February 2006 00:00 UTC was from MV Glasgow Maersk, call sign MZGK7. Reporting from 27.00°N 34.40°E, approximately 150 km north-north-west of the sinking, the container ship shows winds of 24.1 kt (13 ms−1) from 320 degrees, with a surface pressure of 1005 hPa. Sea temperature was 25 °C and a significant wave height of only 45 cm. Visibility was good (10 km), with 7/8 cloud cover. There was also an active weather front overlying the area,[10] clearly visible in METEOSAT imagery.[11]

Numbers on board

The ship was carrying 1,312 passengers and 96 crew members, according to Mamdouh Ismail, head of al-Salaam Maritime Transport Company.[12] Earlier an Egyptian official had mentioned 1,310 passengers and 105 crew[13] (however, the Egyptian presidential spokesman mentioned 98 crew, while the Transport Minister said 104).[12][14]

Possible causes

The reported point where the ship was last observed by coastal radar

Several theories have been put forward about possible causes of the sinking.

Search and rescue

An infrared image from a U.S. Navy aircraft showing a rescue vessel alongside a life raft from the al-Salam Boccaccio 98

At 23:58 UTC on 2 February 2006 the air-sea rescue control room at RAF Kinloss in Scotland detected an automatic distress signal relayed by satellite from the ship's position. The alert was passed on via France to the Egyptian authorities.[15]

On 3 February 2006 some lifeboats and bodies were seen in the water. At least 314 survivors and around 185 dead bodies were recovered. Reuters reported that "dozens" of bodies were floating in the Red Sea.[16]

Rescue boats and helicopters searched the area, including four Egyptian frigates. Italian Coastal Patrol Unit Ships patrolled for more than 90 hours in severe weather conditions, and eight survivors were rescued by MFO vessels "Vedetta" and "Sentinella". Britain diverted the warship HMS Bulwark which would have arrived in a day-and-a-half, but reports conflict as to whether or not the ship was recalled.[17][18] Israeli sources report that an offer of search and rescue assistance from the Israeli Navy was declined.[19] Egyptian authorities accepted a United States offer of a P-3 Orion maritime naval patrol aircraft after initially having said that the help was not needed.[17]

Many survivors reported seeing the captain of the vessel being the first to leave the ship in a lifeboat [AP 2-04-06].

Similar incidents

Trial of owners

In July, 2008 the owner of the al-Salam, Mamdouh Ismail, along with his son Amr Ismail and two others were acquitted of wrongdoing in connection with the disaster by an Egyptian court. An earlier parliamentary inquiry blamed Ismail's company for the disaster, saying they had operated the ferry despite serious defects. Also, the recovered data recorder proved that the ferry's owner knew there had been a fire on board but gave orders to continue on instead of returning to port as the captain had requested.[20] Family member of the victims felt the ruling was brought about by corruption. Ismail is a member of Egypt's upper house and is very well connected.[21]

On 11 March 2009, after the initial acquittal was overturned in a hearing presided over by Judge Khaled Badereldin, Mamdouh Ismail was sentenced to seven years in prison. Two other employees of the company were sentenced to three years in prison each.


  1. AP Wire | 02/03/2006 | Most of 1,400 on doomed ferry feared lost,
  2. "Egypt ferry probe raps officials". BBC News. 19 April 2006.
  3. Overview Press Ltd, Ferries 2004 Southern Europe.
  4. Maritime Knowledge Centre. "INFORMATION RESOURCES ON THE AL SALAM BOCCACCIO 98" (PDF). International Maritime Organization. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
  5. "Ferry carrying 1,300 sinks in Red Sea". Reuters. 3 February 2006.
  6. "Reports of survivor statements". BBC News. 4 February 2006.
  7. Williams, Daniel (4 February 2006). "Report of crew statements". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-13.
  8. "Egyptian passenger ship sinks in Red Sea; 20 confirmed dead; 100 survivors rescued". CJAD 800. 3 February 2006.
  9. National Data Buoy Center.
  10. Image:Gfs10.prp.012.tropio.gif
  11. Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. 1 2 "Most of 1,400 on Doomed Ferry Feared Lost". Yahoo. Associated Press. 3 February 2006. Archived from the original on 16 February 2006. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  13. "Bodies found in water as Egyptian ferry sinks". Times Online. 3 February 2006. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  14. "Hundreds missing after Red Sea ferry sinks". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2006. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  15. "Passenger Ferry Sinks In Red Sea". Sky News. 3 February 2006.
  16. "Ship with 1,400 sinks in Red Sea". CNN. 3 February 2006.
  17. 1 2 "Dozens of Bodies, Survivors in Red Sea.". The New York Times. 3 February 2006.
  18. "Many Dead as Egyptian Ferry Sinks.". BBC News. 3 February 2006.
  19. "Egyptian port swarmed by victims' kin". Jerusalem Post. Associated Press. 3 February 2006. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  20. "Grief And Outrage In Egypt". CNN. 31 July 2008.
  21. "Anger at Egyptian ferry verdict". BBC News. 27 July 2008.

Coordinates: 27°01′59″N 34°52′59″E / 27.033°N 34.883°E / 27.033; 34.883

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