Indonesia detains crew member of boat that capsized off Batam, dozens still missing

A search and rescue team patrols the seas on Nov 3, 2016 after a boat carrying Indonesian migrant workers capsized off Batam the day before.
A search and rescue team patrols the seas on Nov 3, 2016 after a boat carrying Indonesian migrant workers capsized off Batam the day before.PHOTO: REUTERS

NONGSA, Indonesia (REUTERS) - Indonesian police on Thursday (Nov 3) detained one of the crew of a packed boat that crashed off an Indonesian island a day earlier, while a search-and-rescue team scoured the waters for dozens of missing passengers.

The accident happened as the boat, carrying numerous illegal Indonesian workers, was heading for Indonesia's island of Batam, having departed from Malaysia's southern state of Johor.

The boat, with 98 workers and three crew on board, struck a reef in strong winds and big waves. Eighteen people were killed and 39 were pulled from the waters alive.

A 280-strong team resumed the evacuation effort early on Thursday, after the search for the other 44 was halted the previous evening, said Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the Indonesian national disaster mitigation agency.

Police were looking for the captain of the ship, who had fled, and the fate of the third crew member was unknown, said Airlangga, a police spokesman for the Riau Islands, which include Batam.

"The crew is being detained and we are chasing the captain as well, because they are responsible for this incident," officer Airlangga, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians, said by telephone. "They violated the shipping law, and they were also transporting people illegally."

Most of the Indonesian workers were returning home after overstaying in Malaysia, officer Airlangga said, adding that the boat should not have not been so overloaded.

The disaster agency said the lack of a passenger manifest had made it tough to determine the exact number aboard.

Mr Zainul Arifin, one of the survivors, who worked at an oil palm plantation in Malaysia, said he was seated at the back of the boat when it started flooding with seawater.

"I had to jump off and start swimming," Mr Arifin told Reuters in the Batam port town of Nongsa. He had paid 1,200 ringgit (S$397.57) for the boat ride, he added.

Many Indonesians work in Malaysian factories and plantations. Boat accidents are common in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of more than 17,000 islands.