Indonesian ferry accident death toll climbs to 63

Asdar, 28 (centre), a survivor of the Indonesian capsized ferry accident, enroute to a hospital after he was rescued from the sea, in the port of Kolaka, southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 22, 2015.
Asdar, 28 (centre), a survivor of the Indonesian capsized ferry accident, enroute to a hospital after he was rescued from the sea, in the port of Kolaka, southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 22, 2015.PHOTO: EPA
Indonesian rescue workers carry a floatation device believed to belong to the capsized ferry at a sea port in Siwa, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 21, 2015.
Indonesian rescue workers carry a floatation device believed to belong to the capsized ferry at a sea port in Siwa, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 21, 2015.PHOTO: EPA
Indonesian rescue team evacuate bodies recovered from the Indonesian capsized ferry accident in Kolaka, Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 24, 2015.
Indonesian rescue team evacuate bodies recovered from the Indonesian capsized ferry accident in Kolaka, Southern Sulawesi, Indonesia, Dec 24, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA (AFP) - The death toll from a ferry disaster in central Indonesia has risen to 63 with a handful of people still missing as the search and rescue operation winds down, an official said Friday (Dec 25).

Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said as of Friday (Dec 25) morning 103 passengers aboard the ill-fated boat had been recovered, with just 40 found alive.

"If the information is correct, we are still searching for 15 other missing people," Soelistyo told AFP, adding that all the bodies found so far were within the search area.

The ferry operator said the boat was carrying 116 people when it ran into trouble, but Soelistyo said there were two canteen staff who were not mentioned on the manifest.

Ten vessels - including navy warships - and two aircraft are scouring the seas for any sign of the missing, while families wait anxiously for news in Siwa, the port town where the stricken vessel was heading.

Soelistyo said according to the initial plan the search should end on Saturday (Dec 26)but could be extended depending on a final evaluation of the operation.

The ferry sank on rough seas last Saturday (Dec 26) with survivors describing massive waves smashing into the vessel before the engine died and the order was made to abandon ship.

The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on ferry services but fatal accidents are common.