Indonesia to review safety standards for sea transportation after deadly tourist boat fire

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST) - Indonesia will review safety standards for sea transportation following the fatal ferry accident in Jakarta, after preliminary indications suggested that the ill-fated boat had design flaws even though it had passed safety tests.

The Zahro Express was travelling from the Muara Angke sea port in Jakarta to Tidung Island in the Thousand Islands regency on Sunday (Jan 1) when the tourist boat burst into flames, leaving 23 people dead.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said on Monday that his ministry would examine all safety check mechanisms on vessels, especially those operating in the Jakarta Bay.

Mr Budi said the ministry would revoke the permit of any vessel that failed to meet safety requirements.

In order to improve the service and safety standards, he said he has asked state-owned ship operators to serve passengers in the Thousand Islands. "The vessels will be ready in three days," he added.

According to the Jakarta Transportation Agency, 44 private vessels were registered to serve the Thousand Islands, ferrying around 6,000 to 7,000 passengers during the weekends. Many of the boats were owned by private companies.

In the wake of the accident, Mr Budi also said the ministry had fired the Muara Angke port master who was responsible for supervising vessels that entered and exited the port.

Separately, the National Transportation Safety Commission (KNKT) marine accident investigation chief Aldrin Dalimunte suggested that the boat had received safety certifications.

He also brushed off speculation that overloading had contributed to the accident.

Preliminary findings, however, have suggested the boat did not have a design that was conducive to a smooth evacuation in case of emergency situations.

Mr Aldrin said the initial investigations indicated the fire was caused by a short circuit in the engine, which also generated power for the boat's air conditioning system. "Zahro was different from other vessels (serving the route) as it was equipped with an air-conditioning system," he said.

He added that as the cabins were air-conditioned, the passenger cabins were sealed. "There was only one way out, which was at the front of the vessel. And yet the door was very small and could only be passed through by one person at a time," he said.

"When the fire came from the back (of the boat) and people panicked, the evacuation might have become chaotic," he added.

Mr Aldrin said the condition worsened as crew members did not provide any information or guidance for passengers about how to deal with an emergency situation, either before or during the incident. "Our interviews with passengers show that they were left on their own to figure out how to escape the danger and stay alive," he said.

The chief said the KNKT would investigate the accident further, adding that his team would visit the factory that produced the vessel.

Meanwhile, Indonesian police said on Tuesday the ship's captain will be questioned. "The captain will be questioned. We will find out the cause and whether it was because of poor maintenance," National Police chief Gen Tito Karnavian said on Tuesday, as reported by kompas.com.