BATAM • At least 21 people are dead and dozens missing after a boat carrying nearly 100 suspected migrant workers capsized and sank in Indonesian waters, police said yesterday.
The speedboat was ferrying 93 passengers from Malaysia to Batam, an Indonesian island south of Singapore, when it sank, local police chief Sam Budi Gusdian said.
He told reporters that at least 39 passengers had been pulled alive from the seas.
The fate of the 33 other missing passengers remains unclear.
Search and rescue teams, including a helicopter and a dozen boats, were combing the seas for any sign of survivors, Mr Gusdian said.
Police suspect the boat was overcrowded and ferrying migrant workers when it encountered rough seas and capsized.
Mr Zainul Arifin, one of the survivors who worked at an oil palm plantation in Malaysia, said he was sitting at the back of the boat when sea water started coming aboard. Many Indonesians work in Malaysian factories and plantations.
"I had to jump off and start swimming," Mr Arifin told Reuters in the port town of Nongsa on Batam.
Another survivor, Haryanto, 51, told The Jakarta Post that the boat departed from Johor Baru at 3am.
"After two hours of sailing, the boat was struck by strong waves and heavy downpour," he said.
He added that the speedboat was so crowded that some of the passengers had to stand.
Mr Haryanto was saved by fishermen after floating in the water for about two hours.
The Indonesian media yesterday ran the list of names of those who were saved. They came from many parts of the country, including Sumatra, Lombok and Java islands.
The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on boat transport, but fatal accidents are common.
More than 60 people died last December when huge waves capsized a ferry charting a course through Sulawesi province.
In 2009, more than 330 people were killed after a ferry sunk off Sulawesi island in one of the worst accidents at sea in Indonesia.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS,
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK