CAIRO: The Safaga Appeals Court found Mamdouh Ismail, owner of the sunken Al-Salam 98 ferry, guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced him to seven years in prison on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 died when the ferry sank on its way from Saudi Arabia to Egypt in February 2006.
The court overturned a July ruling acquitting five of six defendants in the case.
On Wednesday, two company officials were convicted of negligence in the rescue operation and were sentenced in absentia to three years in prison. A court official told the Associated Press that the botched rescue attempt left some victims stranded in the water for up to 36 hours.
The court also upheld a ruling against Salah-Eddin Gomaa, the captain of Saint Catherine, another ferry that failed to respond to Al-Salam’s distress call. Gomaa received a six-month jail sentence last July.
The victims’ families who arrived to court Wednesday morning expecting another acquittal were overjoyed to hear the verdict.
One of the families’ lawyers, Onsi Ammar, described the verdict as “historic and said relatives that had refused to hold funerals in protest of the way the case was handled in the courts will finally hold a mass funeral in Cairo.
Still, many of the families said the verdict was too lenient.
Yasser Fathi, one of the families’ lawyers, told Daily News Egypt that a conviction was not expected but was considered a victory despite the light sentence.
“This ruling is a fair one as this court saw that the evidence given in the pervious ruling was sufficient for a conviction, with the victims’ families overjoyed at the ruling, he said.
All were convicted in absentia. Ismail had fled the country shortly after standing trial.
A security source said Interpol would not be able to take action against him until Ismail’s case is referred to the supreme court, his last remaining avenue for appeal.
Fathi said that the Prosecutor General should request Mamdouh Ismail’s extradition from the United Kingdom.
He, however, isn’t hopeful that this would lead to any result, saying Egypt and the UK do not have the appropriate treaties for handing over criminals.
Fathi, however, vowed to continue the legal battle by fielding two more lawsuits against Ismail and the other defendants, accusing them of forging official papers and endangering means of public transportation.
Even before the first ruling, the families’ defense had called for the referral of the case from misdemeanor court to criminal court.
Last summer, lawyers started promoting the notion that the manner in which former Prosecutor General Maher Abdel Wahed had referred the case to Safaga’s Misdemeanors Court instead of a criminal court had paved the way for an acquittal sentence for Ismail and other executives.
“In addition, the prosecution office has disregarded a report by the technical committee and other reports on the condition of Al-Salam 98 ferry as well as the testimonies of witnesses. Therefore, the case has to be reexamined, Fathi said at the time.
Human Rights activist Gamal Eid echoed similar sentiments. The prosecutor general, however, rectified earlier shortcomings by appealing the acquittal verdict, Eid told Daily News Egypt.
Eid said that the prosecutors need to issue a statement with their side of the story in order to clarify their positions and regain public trust that turned to anger over the previous ruling.
He added that human rights activists are not concerned about the guilt or innocence of a party or another, but how their cases were judged stressing the need for conforming with the rule of law and adhering to correct procedures to achieve justice. – Additional reporting by Magdy Samaan and agencies.