A Red Sea diving liveaboard had to be evacuated on Saturday, 13 May after what appeared to be a galley fire broke out.
According to one of the 23 guests, who were left with few possessions between them, there had been no safety briefings before or after the vessel’s departure from Hurghada.
The boat Overseas (formerly Dive City) and its eight crew had been chartered for a northern Red Sea reefs and wrecks itinerary from a company called Port Ghalib Divers of Marsa Alam, according to Ben Low, one of the British guests aboard the vessel. The group of 23 included French, Indian, Russian and Turkish divers, and they had hired their own Egyptian dive-guide.
After a delayed departure the boat set off on a 90-minute journey to the first dive-site. “About 45 minutes out we saw light white smoke coming from the galley towards the bow, and smelt burning cooking oil,” Low told Divernet. “None of the crew spoke to us – they just disappeared below decks with a tiny water extinguisher and a bucket of water.
“Next thing we knew, the smoke was thick and black and flames had engulfed the galley and were coming out of the windows – it seemed that water had been thrown onto a cooking-oil fire. Still we were told nothing.
“The captain had shut off one engine and steered into the wind, causing the fire and thick smoke to be channelled through the boat towards where we were at the stern.”
Low tried to get below to warn a friend who was asleep in his cabin, but choking smoke caused him to retreat. Another guest had to shout to the crew to launch the inflatables and evacuate the boat.
The sleeping guest “was very lucky” to wake up, having set an alarm, said Low. “At no point did any of the crew try to check the cabins or make sure everyone was present.” According to Low there had been no safety briefing before departure, and no sign of fire-safety equipment other than the single extinguisher.
Most of the guests had been wearing only swimwear and only three managed to recover bags with passports, cash, mobiles and other valuables,
A fishing-boat crew quickly picked up the passengers and crew, who were later transferred by a naval vessel to its base in Hurghada. “Eventually a fire-boat had arrived but soon gave up trying to put the fire out – it might have been too dangerous or intense,” Low told Divernet.
At the naval base he said the group were given no information but kept in a room with only “a couple of chairs and limited water and some dates”.
Eventually they were collected by a British consulate representative and, having been assured that the boat operator would pay for accommodation and reimbursement, were taken to a hotel.
“It was a run-down building with a few rooms, and no toiletries including paper, towels, lights or air-con,” said Low. “We had to find our own food and water for the first night with the very limited funds saved from the three bags, and no contact from the company.”
After the dive-guide complained to the operator, the divers were eventually moved to the Le Pacha Resort – “it was a better hotel and the staff there were great,” said Low. “A lady called Esra who was on the boat also donated clothes and shoes from her store LC Waikiki in Hurghada to help us out.”
Some days later the divers learnt that the Overseas had been towed back to Hurghada and grounded on a sandbank. According to Low another boat had stayed moored alongside the wreck, and the submerged cabins had been searched by divers, but when he and another guest were taken to the site he said they found opened bags and only a few waterlogged and broken items.
Two passports had been recovered but, according to their owners, they had been in zipped bags with money and other valuables that were missing.
The dive-guide later dived the wreck in search of property, including his own, and reportedly found all the cabins empty.
According to Low the operator of the liveaboard, Ibrahim Ahmed Galal, had promised the group to provide compensation for the lost trip “but only if we signed a contract to release him from any liability”, which he said they refused to do.
It took more than a week for all the guests to be repatriated.
“We'd like to warn everyone looking to dive in the Red Sea to take care with whom they book, and to make sure for their own safety that their boat is fit to carry passengers and has fire-fighting and other safety equipment on board – unlike ours,” said Low. Divernet has asked Port Ghalib Divers for comment but has yet to hear back.
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