The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Shipwreck in the Red Sea:
Profits came first

Feb 13, 2006

The following article was translated from the February 10 issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle), journal of the French Trotskyist group of the same name.

Early on the morning of February 3rd, an Egyptian ferry, Al-Salam Boccaccio, sank in the Red Sea, causing the deaths of more than 1,000 passengers and crew. Three days later, angry relatives of the dead attacked the company's office.

The survivors emphasized that a fire had raged for hours before the ship sank. They also pointed to the absence of enough lifeboats, which the spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak admitted. The Egyptian press pointed out that ferries going back and forth across the Red Sea are often unsafe, because they are too old, badly maintained, badly equipped, sometimes overloaded. Their crews are often poorly trained. Many of the ships had sailed for years in the rich countries before starting a second life under much worse conditions. Take, for example, this sinking Egyptian ship. It was built in 1970 near Naples for the Italian company Tirrenia.

After sailing the ship for 28 years between the port of Rome and Sardinia, its Italian owners sold it to an Egyptian company. Two decks were added to the ferry, increasing its height by 21 feet. By raising the ship's center of gravity, the change made the ship more unstable. The ship's former Italian captain explained, "When you add height to a ship, there are great risks of pitching. The stabilizers were very effective, but they have to be steered carefully. When the sea is agitated, they act in an opposite direction and have a destabilizing effect." Ignoring the risks, the Italian company Tirrenia and the Italian ship registration society authorized this Egyptian ferry to sail.

Of course, ships also sink in rich countries. The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized out of the Belgian port of Zeebrugge in 1987. Seven years later, tragedy struck off the coast of Finland, where 852 people died in the sinking of the ferry Estonia.

But ships frequently sink in poor countries. The shipping paper Lloyd's List explained, "Al-Salam was a ship in the autumn of its life, one that age and its ability to comply with post-Estonia criteria such as the Stockholm Rules drove out of European waters to its final trading route."

This is how business operates: a European shipowner sells a derelict ship to a shipowner in a poor country. Whether they ship oil, chemical products or passengers – the blind race for profit cause these disasters. Most of the time, those responsible are based in a small number of rich countries, but their ravages extend to the entire world.