At least 31 dead as Indonesian ferry sinks

At least 31 people were killed and 125 rescued after a ferry sank off Indonesia’s Sulawesi island in the latest of a series of transport accidents to hit the archipelago nation, officials said on Friday.

Residents near the town of Bau Bau on south-east Sulawesi heard survivors screaming and pleading for help after the Acita 03 capsized at about 9pm (1pm GMT) on Thursday, ElShinta radio reported.

The 22m long ship sank several kilometres from shore when passengers clambered to the boat’s roof to make cellphone calls when they couldn’t get a signal, said transport ministry official Djoni Algamar.

“The ship lost its balance and capsized,” he said, adding that 60 names had been on the ship’s manifest.

ElShinta’s reporter said 151 people were believed to be on board, while the mayor of Bau Bau, Amirul Tamim, told the radio station that 188 people were on the ferry and several dozens thought to be missing.

Indonesian ferries frequently carry far more passengers than the number officially registered.

Officials at Bau Bau general hospital said that 30 bodies had arrived at the hospital’s morgue and they had been told one more was on its way. Nineteen survivors were being treated for shock.

A hospitalised survivor, Safruddin, told ElShinta that he had been travelling from his home village to work on Sulawesi after the one-week holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

“I thought I would die.
I managed to get out of the boat ... I held on to two pieces of foam and then I passed out. I woke up at the port and I threw up,” he said, adding that he did not know how he got to port.

Safruddin said his two-year-old child and wife survived by clinging to wooden planks, and fishermen later rescued them.

Search and rescue team chief Roki Asikin told ElShinta that 125 people had been rescued, “but we do not know how many people were aboard the ship, so we don’t know how many people are still missing.”

He said people had been trapped in the vessel when it went down.

Local policeman, Idwar, said that the vessel had been heading from Tomea island to Bau Bau on Buton island, around 1 500km north-east of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

Tomea belongs to the Wakatobi group of islands, which is home to some of Indonesia’s top dive sites and is popular with international tourists.

Millions of people are returning home over the next few days across Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, after the week-long holiday ending on Friday to mark the close of Ramadan.

Sea links are crucial in Indonesia, an archipelago nation of about 17 500 islands, but safety standards are frequently low or not enforced.

The accident is the latest in a string of transport disasters in the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called on passenger boat operators to improve safety in February after scores of people were killed when a ferry caught fire off Jakarta.

In December last year, about 400 people drowned when another ferry sank off Java.

The government is considering new regulations for old ships. - Sapa-AFP

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