Voices from beyond the grave

Monday April 24 2006 Lloyds List

Voices from beyond the grave echo doomed Red Sea ferry's final hours

Poignant transcript recalls crew's battle to save Al Salam Boccaccio 98. A
Lloyd's List Exclusive

Monday April 24 2006

A CHILLING transcript of the conversations recorded by the black box
recorder of the Al Salam Boccaccio 98point to a string of failings by the
captain and crew in the last hours of the ill-fated vessel's voyage.

Extracts of the transcript seen by Lloyd's List reveal the full horror of
the last four hours and 22 minutes of the Panama-flagged ferry's journey
between Duba in Saudi Arabia and the Egyptian port of Safaga.

More than 1,000 people died, making it one of the worst ship-ping tragedies
in recent history.

The last desperate exchanges between the ship's master, Captain Sayed Ahmed
Sayed Omar, and his crew, recorded on the transcript as taking place
between 2321 hrs and 2333 hrs on February 2, all too explicitly depict the
confusion that contributed to the massive loss of life.

The nightmare of the crew's valiant but ultimately ineffective effort to
fight a fire that appears to have started on the car deck for four hours is
vividly portrayed in the 8,800 words preceding the master's realisation
that he was about to go down with the vessel without a life jacket.

An Egyptian parliamentary committee investigating the causes of the
accident blamed a "wicked collaboration" between the ship's owners and
corrupt safety inspectors for the huge loss of life.

The parliamentary committee, which issued its report last week, accused the
owners of using forged documents to hide a shortage of safety equipment and
political corruption for allowing the owner of El Salam Maritime Transport,
Mamdouh Ismail, a politician, to escape the net of the investigation.

Panama Shipping Register, the company that issued the passenger safety
certificate which covers life-saving equipment, and the ship's insurer,
Steamship Mutual, both claim that the ship's documents were in order and
that the vessel was equipped with life-saving equipment for almost double
the 1,418 passengers and crew on the 11,799 gt vessel.

Regardless of the amount of life-saving equipment, the black box transcript
points to a complete lack of preparedness on the part of the crew to use it
in an effective evacuation of the passengers.

The voyage data recorder details how the drama unfolded from the first call
to the bridge, timed at 1909 hrs on February 2, to the decision to issue a
mayday signal more than four hours later, pointing to a litany of failings
by the crew.

Only 24 of the crew and 300 passengers survived the ordeal. Most of the
discussions during the four hours of recordings focus on firefighting
activities at the expense of efforts to alert the passengers or implement
any type of evacuation of the vessel.

It is only two hours after the battle with the fire on the car deck begins
that the master asks: "Is everybody wearing the life jackets?" At no point
does he consider returning to Saudi Arabia and continues on the tragic
voyage towards the Egyptian port.

The transcript also shows a reluctance to communicate with other ships in
the vicinity and with the ship's owner.

Shortly after the fire is detected, one of the officers on the bridge asks
the captain: "Shall we inform the vessels around us, captain?" but there is
no answer.

Later, the master says to one of his companions: "I do not want to confuse
the vessels around us, you understand. Then they will start asking us if
there is something and I do not want anyone to ask us."

There was also a lack of communication with authorities in Egypt and Saudi

When asked, two hours into the ordeal, whether to inform the Egyptian port
authorities, the master replies: "No we are too far," as the ferry sails
towards its final destination. Only in the dying minutes of February 2 a
mayday call is issued.

Conversations also reveal how the master and crew used vast quantities of
water delivered by fire hoses rather than powder or foam to fight the fire,
contributing to the destabilisation of the ship, and how the crew later
attempted to address the listing of the vessel by filling the ballast
tanks, a move that eventually contributed to the sinking.

Black box transcript reveals four hours of confusion and fear as ferry sank

The Al Salam Boccaccio 98 disaster started to unfold with the sound of an
alarm and an ominous knock on the door of the bridge at about 1909 hrs on
February 2. The following excepts are taken verbatim from the 'black box'
recorder transcript, showing, exchange-by-exchange, how the crew struggled
to save the 1970-built ferry

'The first engineer is saying cabin 230 is on fire'

19:09:00 to 19:28:07

Someone knocks on the bridge door and says that there is a fire in the

Crew: "OK we tell the captain I was calling on the sailor but he is not

Crew:"Is this smoke in the engine?"

Crew:"I do not know."

Captain: "Send for Captain Massoud quickly. What smoke what is it?"

Crew: "There is a black smoke that might be coming from the engineroom."

Captain: "Engine room? Where is the chief engineer? Call the engine room

The first reaction of the master and the crew is to locate the fire - on
the sixth and seventh decks of the ferry and to tackle it with hoses and

Crew:"The fire is in the garage captain."

Captain: "Can someone have a look quickly. Go quickly with fire hoses to
the garage."

Crew:"And also the sprinklers."

Captain: "And the sprinklers too. Wake up the chief engineer and the first
quickly. I need the sprinkler quickly."

When another vessel is heard in the background, the Al Salam Boccaccio 98
master reveals his reluctance to admit any problem and ask for assistance.

A voice of another ship on the VHF

Captain: "Turn the lights of the bridge off because of the ships around us.
I want someone to be responsible for the bridge."

By 19:28:07 the fire has spread to cabin 400 although the crew believes the
hoses are 'working, working'.

19:30:10 to 19:49:23

Less than half an hour later other cabins are affected and panic is
beginning to set in amongst the passengers as smoke pours out of the port
side of the vessel. A crewmember tries to calm down a passenger as another
ship can be heard in the background.

A voice of another ship on the VHF

Officer addressing passengers: "Get back please. It's over, the fire is
over, get back."

Early on, the captain begins to realise the danger of pumping the vehicle
decks full of seawater, heightening the risk of the free surface effect
responsible for the sinking of similar ro-ro vessels. Concern is also
building regarding the ability to drain the water out of the lower decks
and the inability to locate the exact location of the fire.

Captain: "But tell him that they must suck the water from the garage. OK,
first someone take care of the water in the garage we don't want it to
reach high levels and send the plumper to fix the drains."

Crew: "Water level is getting high."

Crew: "I already told the first eng. And he is sending someone to the

Crew: "Someone with a mask go to check the left side may be this smoke is
coming from somewhere else."

Crew: "Yes. First engineer, what is wrong with cabin 230?"

First engineer: "It is on fire."

Crew: "The first engineer is saying cabin 230 is on fire."

19:49:26 to 20:10:39

By this stage a team around 10 crewmembers are fighting the fire and the
master has not ordered the waking of all the crew.

20:12:17 to 20:31:54

The fears about the build up of water on the car decks mount as cars block
the drains, the water level rises and the ferry begins to list. Crewmembers
raise the idea of calling for help but there is no answer from the master
who remains preoccupied with the fire.

Crew: "OK, OK - the first engineer sent the plumber to fix the drains."

Crew: "First engineer, please tell Youssef to fix the drains on the right
side by any mean the listing is increasing."

Crew: "Yes, engine room, we need Youssef the plumber to go and fix the
drains on the right side in the garage."

Crew: "The drains are blocked the cars are parked over it."

Crew: "Tell him to fix any drains that he can reach."

One of the officers on the bridge:"Shall we inform the vessels around us

No answer from the captain

The fire begins to spread to other cabins and a decision is taken to limit
the sprinklers in the car deck, to reduce the increasing list of the

'Captain, there is smoke from everywhere'

20:33:21 to 20:53:02

- "How many degrees is the list now?"

Crew: "Six degrees captain."

20:54:16 to 21:14:07

The master is asked whether to make contact with nearby ships and to ask
for assistance, but declines. In the belief that the fire is under control,
he elects instead to make contact with someone at the company.

Captain to someone on the bridge: "Yes, I know, but I do not want to
confuse the vessels around us, you understand, then they will start asking
us if there is something and I do not want anyone to ask us."

Crew: "Captain Sayed, what is the situation?"

Captain: "There is only smoke and I am working on it."

Crew: "Ok, OK good."

Captain: "Is there fire or only smoke, first engineer?"

First engineer:"Only smoke."

Captain:"Good, good. There is a lot of smoke coming from the chimney."

Somebody on the bridge: "Yes captain there is smoke from everywhere.

Captain: "I want you to call Captain Mamdouh Oraby on his mobile and tell
him that we had a fire and it spread in the garage and we are fighting it
till now and that the master is busy with the fire fighting and that we
will keep him updated and this is just for his information."

Two hours of a raging fire have taken its toll on the electrics, limiting

Crew: "When the pumps stopped number 24 stopped also and the telephone is
on number 24."

The list increases to 7 degrees and a request is made to stop the
sprinklers and contact the port captain in Egypt.

Crew: "Shall we inform Duba port captain?"

Captain: "No, we are far."

Crew: "Captain Massoud, shall we stop the spray garage or you still need

Captain: "OK, try to be sure and let us know immediately, because the water
level inside the ship is increasing a lot and will also become very
dangerous. There is no way that the telephone can work?"

Crew: "No captain, the telephone the pump and the GPS is out of order."

Crew: "The trailer on the left side is still on fire."

As the list increases, a decision is made to shore up the vessel's

Crew: "The list is increasing a lot captain."

Captain: "Yes, that's why I am calling the first engineer. I want him to
take the water from the right side and through it to the left."

Crew: "No captain it will go right again."

Captain: "Ok through it to the sea."

With drainage showing no signs of improvement and the electrics badly
affected, the chief engineer asks for permission to send out an SOS but
again the captain does not respond.

Chief engineer:"Shall I start the caterpillar so we send SOS?"

Crew: "There is no loads for the SOS but I can start the caterpillar."

Crew: "Where is engineer Abd el Rahman?"

A voice of another vessel on the radio

Captain: "Turn off these lights."

The list worsens as a result of the wind and the failing drains.

Crew: "If the drains are not blocked we would have had no problems."

Crew: "Yes, the wind, but at the end I will turn."

Crew: "You know captain this list is 7 degrees because of the water inside
and at least 4 degrees because of the wind?"

Electrical failings are also affecting the navigation of the vessel.

Crew: "We need to turn the vessel - we are trying."

Crew: "Is it turning with you, son?"

Crew: "Why?"

Crew: "The batteries are not working."

Crew: "It is disconnected we need ??. This is the problem I was afraid of."

Captain: "All to the right, all to the right."

Crew: "Chief engineer, is there any way that we can start the batteries of
the wheel are disconnected and I want to turn the vessel because of the

Chief engineer: "We try but not sure."

After the vessel finally begins to turn and a pump begins to reduce the
water levels, the list drops marginally from 10 degrees to 9 degrees. But
it soon begins to increase again as the vessel takes a new course. The crew
begin to realise that the initiative has failed and attempt to address the
list by emptying and filling the ballast tanks on different sides of the
vessel. As the ship turns, the vehicles on the car deck shift from one side
of the deck to another, further destabilising the vessel.

Captain: "The list is 13 degree."

Captain: "All the wheel to the right."

Radio officer: "Is it fire or only smoke?"

Crew: "Is it fire or only smoke, Captain Massoud."

Crew: "First, is the pump working or not?"

Crew: "Working."

Crew: "Is it coming with you all to the right."

Crew: "Yes it is coming."

Captain: "Stop the spray garage now until the pump work. When we were on
the first course it was better. Is there a way to discharge water from tank
18 right. Can we discharge the water from tank 18 right the ship is listing
15 degrees now. Can we fill tank 25 left?"

Radio officer to the captain:"They can open the pilot door and discharge
from it."

Captain:"The list is the most important now. How much is the bow."

Someone informing the captain: "All the trailers on the left side moved now
to the right."

'Captain, the ship is sinking'

Set on a new course, but with the vessel sinking, the danger of the
situation being played out begins to dawn on everyone, but there are still
no orders to begin evacuating the ship or to contact other vessels in the
vicinity. Almost three and a half hours have passed since the fire was
first reported.

22:38:14 to 22:58:32

Contact is made with another vessel as the list reaches 15 degrees.

Unclear discussion in the bridge between the captain, the radio officer and
the chief officer.

Voice of another vessel on the VHF

Radio officer: "What are you saying first, I cannot hear you?"

Captain: "Tell him we are listing 15 degrees. Yes, first, what is the
solution now the list is very dangerous."

23:20:55 to 23:21:43

The urgency is all too obvious as the master orders number 2, 6, 9 and 25
ballast tanks on the port side of the vessel to be filled and to stop the
use of sprinklers.

Captain: "Do not use any water. We will lose the ship this way. The ship is
listing too much - do not use the spray."

Crew: "Not even the pumps no any water."

Captain: "What is burning?"

23:21:53 to 23:33:13

With the ballast tanks filled and the pumps working there is no

Captain: "Can you see the right side. The list is increasing - we are
listing 18 degrees now. See if there is an opening that the water is
entering from."

Crew: "No captain, there is no opening."

Captain: "So why is the list increasing although the pump is working and
the ballast is filling? We need any solution with the ballast."

Crew: "We are filling it captain."

Captain: "OK see why the water is increasing in the right side. Try to see
the ballast. We are listing 20 degrees now the vessel will turn. Please
first find any solution for the water the ship is listing 20 degrees now.
Captain Massoud, the ship is listing 20 degrees.

"OK, come right slowly. The wind is from the right - maybe it is against
us. How is the wind now?"

Crew: "Nobody knows how is the wind now."

Captain: "I mean left or right."

Crew: "Captain, tell him to change the wheel right."

Captain: "All wheel right."

Crew: "The list is 20 degrees now captain."

Captain: "OK be patient."

As the master pleads for patience, the severe listing is causing concern
among the passengers and yet, remarkably, some four hours after the fire
started, there has still been no order to prepare the life-rafts.

Captain: "Calm down the people."

Crew: "Shall we bring the life boats down captain?"

Captain: "Wait, wait."

A telephone is ringing.

Captain: Somebody answer. The left side is all on fire. We turning the
vessel we want to decrease this list."

Crew: "The list is 21 degrees captain, 25 degrees captain."

Captain: "Half the wheel."

Crew: "The ship is sinking captain."

Captain: "Left."

Crew: "OK captain left but the ship is sinking."

Captain: "Send may day."

Sounds of things falling and noise.

Crew: "Captain the ship is sinking."

Captain: "Wait every thing is OK we sent mayday."


Captain: "All wheel left."

Crew: "The ship sank captain."

Captain: "Just wait."

Crew: "Is there any life jacket here any life jacket?"

Captain: "Someone get us a life jacket....No life jacket?"

Crew: "Nothing."

Sound of a high alarm

Crew: "Captain Sayed I am here."

Captain: "OK, I am with you here."

Crew: "I am Ahmed Atrees.