76 aboard stricken Indonesian ferry missing

Two members of a search-and- rescue team with a young survivor in Siwa. The vessel was ferrying 118 people around Sulawesi island when it sent out a distress signal last Saturday afternoon.
Two members of a search-and-rescue team with a young survivor in Siwa. The vessel was ferrying 118 people around Sulawesi island when it sent out a distress signal last Saturday afternoon.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Three dead and 39 others rescued; vessel yet to be found as rough seas hamper search

SIWA (Indonesia) • The captain of an Indonesian ferry that sank in rough seas has been rescued two days after the accident, but more than 70 others remain missing, officials said Tuesday (Dec 22).

The national search and rescue agency has so far found 40 survivors including the captain and four bodies off Sulawesi island, out of the 118 on board.

The captain, identified only as Asdar, was found floating in a life jacket late Monday and told rescuers what happened to his boat the previous Saturday.

“The captain said before the boat sank, five to seven metre-high waves hit the boat and entered the engine room,” operations director Ivan Titus told AFP.

Search-and-rescue teams have still not found the ferry, police told Agence France-Presse. The vessel was ferrying 118 people around Sulawesi island when it sent out a distress signal last Saturday afternoon.

The boat was travelling from Kolaka town in South-east Sulawesi province to Siwa port in South Sulawesi.

The whereabouts of the remaining 76 people are also still unclear, with search-and-rescue teams hampered by rough conditions and waves up to 5m high as daylight hours dwindle.

When asked whether the boat had sunk, South Sulawesi police spokesman Frans Barung told Agence France-Presse: "Maybe yes, maybe no."

"The boat has not been found because the weather has not been good," he added, saying the boat was constructed from fibreglass and was therefore difficult to sink. A report on the Detik news website said the vessel had sprung a leak about 22km from Siwa port.

Television footage showed dozens of family members anxiously waiting for their loved ones at the port.

The authorities lost contact with the ferry late on Saturday afternoon, and it failed to arrive at its destination in Siwa as scheduled. Officials dismissed initial reports that the vessel had sunk, instead claiming that it was adrift, having lost engine power.

Police, national search-and-rescue teams and the navy have been scouring the seas for survivors ever since but have been battling harsh elements.

Local search-and-rescue head Roki Asikin said powerful waves meant it took three hours to evacuate some survivors to shore. "These waves were very high," he said.

There had been warnings about extreme weather in the area in the days leading up to the accident, with strong winds and rough seas.

The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on ferry services, but the industry has a poor safety record and fatal accidents are common.

A rescue official said yesterday that rescuers were scouring offshore north of Kolaka in case water currents had taken the victims there.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2015, with the headline '76 aboard stricken Indonesian ferry missing'. Print Edition | Subscribe