/ 30 December 2006

Hundreds missing after ferry sinks off Indonesia

More than 500 people were still missing in stormy seas off Indonesia’s Java island on Saturday, almost a day after a ferry from Borneo capsized, officials said.

The sinking was the second Indonesian ferry disaster in as many days after a vessel overturned on Thursday in rough seas off Sumatra.

High seas and bad weather hampered rescue efforts after the latest disaster, officials said on Saturday.

Rescuers found two bodies and 74 people alive, said Riyadi, head of search and rescue operations in Semarang, Central Java.

The ferry Senopati Nusantara carried 605 people, including 63 crew, according to the manifest, a navy spokesperson said.

Seventeen survivors were taken to Tuban in East Java province, an officer at the district police station, Muhaimin, told Reuters.

Transportation Minister Hatta Rajasa said the ship was on fire before it sank at about midnight on Friday. ”The huge waves and storm caused the ship to burn,” he told the BBC Indonesian service.

”We have received information that dozens of passengers had used life rafts, in addition to those [already] rescued. We are trying to rescue them,” he said.

He said the Japanese-made 2 178-tonne ship was seaworthy and had a capacity of more than 850 passengers.

”We will continue the search operation, normally until seven days, but it can be extended until we are sure that we have made our utmost efforts.”

‘The crew told us to be calm’

A survivor said heavy seas had battered the ship since afternoon, scattering its furniture in every direction.

”The crew told us to be calm and that nothing was going to happen. But at about 11.15pm the ship began to turn over and then capsized,” Irfan told Metro TV.

He said he tried to save a child but was hit by a metal bar.

”I was trapped in the ship. But I was flushed out by water and I saw many people struggling to save themselves,” he said, adding that he held on to a rubber buoy before being rescued.

Another survivor, Cholid, said his 18-year-old daughter was missing. ”I hope rescuers can find my daughter,” he told Elshinta radio from a hospital in Rembang, where he said he had been taken by fishermen who found him.

Crew members ordered passengers to put on lifejackets before the ship sank, he said.

The ship was reported to be leaking before it sank.

Toni Syaiful, a navy spokesperson in the East Java city of Surabaya south of where the ship went down, said it had left Kalimantan on Borneo for Semarang.

Syaiful said the ship carried 542 passengers based on tickets sold and 63 crew. Earlier figures from officials and media had ranged from 500 to 850 on board.

Indonesian vessels often carry passengers not listed on the official manifests.

Ships and ferries are a popular means of transport among Indonesia’s 17 000 islands, where sea connections are cheaper and more available than air routes. However, safety standards are not always enforced, and accidents occur fairly often.

Rescue efforts were also under way on Saturday for passengers from the ferry that capsized off Sumatra on Thursday.

”From 51 passengers, we have found four bodies and 28 people [have] been secured,” said Abu Sopha Ibrahim, spokesperson for South Sumatra police. – Reuters