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Swallowed by the Red Sea: the mysterious drowning of Ismail Marzouk

Last week another diving instructor, Ismail Marzouk, died mysteriously while diving in the Red Sea; Ahram Online meets his family and friends, seeking to understand his sudden disappearance

Friday 12 Aug 2011
Ismail Marzouk
Ismail Marzouk
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Dear Soma, my babesy, my love, my heart, my soul,

This is you and the greatest love of your life, a week before you died. When I open the laptop she comes running to see ‘baba’. She is so happy when she sees your pictures and keeps kissing the screen. She loves you babe and she is so much like you, in everything. Thank you. Thank you for Aisha, for your sincere love, for your kindness, your endlessly good heart, your dedication, your sense of humour, your cleverness, your enthusiasm, your passion, your pureness, thank you for our time together, for us. I am so proud I was the one. You're in my heart and soul forever.

All my love, Jude

With these words Judith kisses her 33-year-old husband Ismail Marzouk who was tragically swallowed by the Red Sea a week ago goodbye. These words are from a facebook page that was set by Ismail Marzouk's family and friends in his memory.

What happened under the water?

On Tuesday last week, Marzouk, a professional diving instructor, was on a diving trip with a group of British tourist divers in Marsa Allam, southern Red Sea. Something he has been doing almost every day for the past seven years, except that this time he never came back.

He descended along with three divers. Marzouk was the only instructor. The divers all emerged from the sea except him. His body was never found. In the police report the diving tourists accounts were thus accounted: “He panicked and stopped breathing; he also dropped his oxygen tank 60 meters under water; they tried to rescue him but he fell in the bottom of the sea.  They went to the boat and told the other instructor who then went down and tried to find him but he couldn’t. This is as far as our investigations found, and this report is over.” This could be interpreted as an oxygen toxicity case which happens deep under water without adequate equipment. 

Back in Cairo, in an overpopulated neighbourhood of the historic Maadi suburb, live the Marzouk family. His mother is in disbelief, she uttered not a single word in the three hours Ahram Online spent at the house. His father Hamdi Marzouk who worked as a contractor both in Cairo and the Gulf kept repeating two sentences, “the prosecutor-general should investigate this; our children are not cheap” and “my son is a professional, he couldn’t do a mistake like this, this is murder.” 

His interpretation of his son’s death is as follows: “My son only dives according to a very detailed plan I am sure there is something wrong or fishy. My interpretation is that the divers with him went very deep and he wanted to rescue them but he died in the process,” said the father still in disbelief that his son could disappear like this. “I don’t understand why they left him, they could have tried rescuing him or at least lend him a balloon.” The balloon marks his place so that people could rescue him or his body. The tourists with him said his balloons didn’t work, but they didn’t lend him one of their six balloons. 

Career of passion

Ismail Marzouk studied law school and worked as a lawyer for some time. Then he decided to pursue his passion, the sea. He studied water sports and specialised in diving, later he became one of the best diving instructors in Egypt. 

His father recalls that his passion for water started as early as he was four-years-old. “He was living with his grandfather who was a tennis coach and used to go with him to the sports club, but he always snuck out of the tennis yard and jumped into the swimming pool.”

What went wrong?

According to Ahmed Youssef, Marzouk’s best friend, there is always something wrong with the procedures.  No safety procedures are taken to ensure that divers’ lives are not at great stake. “According to the regulations in any dive, two instructors should be under water, not one. Also the permission they have is a PADI dive which is maximum 40 meters under water, but the trip was sold in the UK as a technical dive and they went far beyond 60 metres under water,” said Youssef, who also believes the police report doesn’t deal with any technical aspect of the case. “It doesn’t say what equipment he had, is the equipment convenient for this type of dive or not etc.”

Neither Youssef nor Marzouk have a contract with any of the diving companies and boats they work with. They only have their diving certificates and cards issued from the chamber of diving and watersports saying, “This is not a working permit.” 
“We are working in one of the four most dangerous jobs in the world and we are over 10 000 divers in Egypt, yet there is no law to protect us,” added Youssef who laments that tourism industry is highly controlled by businessmen who own everything and make sure they cut on the expenses of labour. 

Youssef once worked with a company and didn’t get paid for eight months. Marzouk’s last dive was with a big UK company named Blue O Two, one of the best paying companies. There he got paid 50 euro a day – from 5am to 4pm. This included four dives as well as getting permits, coordinating with different authorities, seeing the current under water and drawing a plan etc. The cost of this trip would generally cost a tourist anywhere from 1000 to 4000 euro per person.

Divers also often buy their own equipment as companies don’t provide them. These could be very expensive, ranging from $10 to 40 thousand.  Throughout the last seven years, Marzouk would only invest in his equipment and education. 

Syndicate

Since divers have no contracts even with big companies and often work on a freelance basis to avoid exploitation by business owners, Marzouk and his co workers were trying to set up their own independent syndicate. “We have been working on a syndicate for divers in Egypt, we started filling formats, then came the revolution and everything stopped; we had no work and couldn’t afford a lawyer; its picking up again now,” said Youssef who also stressed that if his friend Marzouk doesn’t get adequate compensation, he will quit his career. 

Compensation

But what would be an adequate compensation for Marzouk’s friends and family
“My son died. Nothing could compensate me, and we don’t even have his body to burry. The authorities need to know that Egyptian lives are not cheap. The best of our children, as young as 30-years-old, dies and disappears into the sea without anyone noticing. It is not fair,” said Hamdy.

His brother Islam also says: “These accidents occur a lot; we just don’t want this to happen again. We want company owners and authorities to hold to their responsibilities in both safety procedures and compensation. I am sure the owner of the company is only worried about the tanks he lost, not my brother,” added Islam.

As for his best friend, Youssef, he believes the company has to offer both moral and material adequate compensation. “They need to issue a statement declaring their responsibility in not taking the necessary steps (in accordance with regulations) to ensure his safety so that when his daughter grows up she is not told her father was a fool and killed himself under water because he was a great diver. Also required is adequate compensation for his young daughter’s education,” added Youssef. 

But how often do accidents like this occur? “Every day,” answers Youssef adding that on the same day when Marzouk died, another Russian diving instructor died. “The difference is, however, that many teams were sent to search for the latter including helicopters and marines; they couldn’t get the body either, but with Marzouk no one even did the effort,” Youssef argued.

In all cases, it is often very difficult to reclaim bodies in the deep areas of the Red Sea especially with complicated corals and the burdens of heavy equipment. Struggling divers can often sink to the bottom with their equipment.  
Blue o two’s manager preferred not to comment. Instead, they will wait until investigations are over and the police’s final report is released. 

Meanwhile a Facebook memorial page was set for Ismail Marzouk: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ismail-Marzouk-Memorial-Page/156141721129601

 

 

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Morgan
17-08-2011 05:53pm
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So sorry.
I have dived the Red Sea many times now and am going again in a couple of weeks. I am so very sad to hear this news. It breaks my heart to read it. I did not know Ismail but have a lot of dive guide/instructor friends in Egypt and know this terrible tragedy will hurt them deeply. May your god look after Ismail and allow him to rest in eternal peace.
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Ahmed Adly
15-08-2011 09:29pm
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Tragedy
Ismail was a really good man. His death was a sad result of decisions that he took and no one is to blame. Personally, I wish that I could blame someone, but the truth is that it was a tragic accident. His body was not recovered due to the depth of the dive site and I am SURE that Ismail would not want anyone to risk their lives to save him. I feel fortunate, that he was witnessed deceased at the scene. Therefore his loved ones may know for sure that he has passed away.
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Nadege
14-08-2011 03:08pm
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Security first
I am a French woman and dove many times with Ismail. He became a very dear friend and I followed his career for years. You need to know Ismail left many diving centers because he could not go with the poor security measures of some of them. He argued with some customers sometimes because they wanted more, always more, and had no clue about the dangers. Eventually Ismail was responsible and sometimes made the call to interrupt the dive. He got people pissed off this way but he could not care less and he was right because his motto had always been "security first". He always and I mean always dove according to the plan and would give a hard time to people on the surface if they hadn't. He was the most talented, the nicest, the most patient and the cleverest instructor I ever met. Ismail also knew very well the first symptoms of narcosis, he was teaching people every day about it and about what to do in such cases. He was not a fool, he was not crazy.
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Mustafa Abdelkader
13-08-2011 08:16pm
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What???
A reader is criticizing the title of this article? Why don't you read the article and realize that Egyptian children are being tortured and abused by the Police and the MB militas, get a heart and get over your Western Stupidity! Absolute Ignorance! Pathetic that children are abused yet YOU are screaming over the words used by the article, directly quoted by a child who sufferred horrible torture!
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Ahmed Fouad Gad
13-08-2011 03:13pm
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Egyptian Professional Divers
Dear Patkar, i don't really get the goal of your comment but i see you are too far from diving roles and diving theory! if you or anyone seeking information about the cause of death (Oxygen Toxicity) then pleas visit the article we wrote at: http://ahmedredsea.blogspot.com/2011/08/oxygen-toxicity.html?spref=fb for more information about the ongoing efforts to unionize Egypt’s diversor visit our gruop in facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/377495530135/ or visit directly the group of Egyptian Divers Syndicate: https://www.facebook.com/groups/egypt.divers2011/ Thank you!
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patkar
13-08-2011 02:49pm
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nitrogen
when you dive with compressed air ( oxygen and nitrogen ) your blood will absorb a certain quantity of nitrogen.Diving tables tell you how long you can stay at given depth with or without decompression stops( like OK 40m for 5 minutes straight to the surface but advised 3 minutes at 3 meters ) When you go further down or stay longer you must observe more stops on your way up allowing to flush your blood from nitrogen which could start to bublein your blood system( the bends or brain collapse ) Another side effect is depth narcosis: you are just drunk and don t know what you do such as letting go of your life supporting gear...and drown. All this is subject to your physical shape ( did you party or have heavy food the night before ? ) Special mixtures that include helium gas instead of nitrogen are available ( at a price + transportation!) in Egypt.Considering the financial situation in the country and also the fact that divers( clients ) always want more. This professionnal divema
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patkar
13-08-2011 02:49pm
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nitrogen
when you dive with compressed air ( oxygen and nitrogen ) your blood will absorb a certain quantity of nitrogen.Diving tables tell you how long you can stay at given depth with or without decompression stops( like OK 40m for 5 minutes straight to the surface but advised 3 minutes at 3 meters ) When you go further down or stay longer you must observe more stops on your way up allowing to flush your blood from nitrogen which could start to bublein your blood system( the bends or brain collapse ) Another side effect is depth narcosis: you are just drunk and don t know what you do such as letting go of your life supporting gear...and drown. All this is subject to your physical shape ( did you party or have heavy food the night before ? ) Special mixtures that include helium gas instead of nitrogen are available ( at a price + transportation!) in Egypt.Considering the financial situation in the country and also the fact that divers( clients ) always want more. This professionnal divema
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