Senior United Nations officials today expressed their sadness over the sinking of an Egyptian ferry passing through the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia with some 1,400 passengers aboard.
In a statement read by his spokesman in New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged help for the Egyptian Government as it searches for survivors of the tragedy. The ship, Al Salam Boccaccio 98, was travelling from Dubah, Saudi Arabia to Safaga, Egypt when the incident occurred Thursday night.
Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, head of the London-based International Maritime Organization (IMO), also voiced sadness at the tragedy and joined Mr. Annan in extending condolences to those affected.
Mr. Mitropoulos cautioned against speculating on the causes of the incident until reliable information is available. “Once this happens, we will see if there are lessons to be learned so that we may take prompt and expedited action so that similar accidents are not repeated in the future,” he said.
The IMO is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and prevent marine pollution emanating from ships. Since learning of the incident, Mr. Mitropoulos has been in contact with transport and maritime officials form Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Panama as well as the Egyptian and Panamanian ambassadors in London.
Late last month, the IMO and Interferry, a non-governmental industry organization, sealed an agreement to improve ferry safety. The pact formalized their intention to combine efforts to strengthen the safety of non-Convention ferries.
When signing the agreement, Mr. Mitropoulos and Alexander Panagopulos, Director of the Interferry Board, both stressed the crucial need to move forward in an industry that has experienced a number of tragic accidents with large losses of life in recent years.
Under the agreement, the two organizations will work closely with interested parties, such as Bangladesh, which was selected as a pilot country for the initiative. The joint project will ultimately create working groups in the pilot country to identify the issues surrounding ferry safety and ways to improve safety.
The next phase would be a larger Government-approved project within Bangladesh that would explore a range of issues, including overcrowding, terminal management, vessel design, passenger-carrying arrangements, stowage, hazardous weather, crew training and certification systems.
The lessons culled from the project will provide a model for projects in other countries with ferry safety issues.