JAKARTA • Indonesian police say they have detained the captain of a tourist boat that burst into flames on New Year's Day en route to a holiday island and left 23 people dead, amid reports that he was the first to jump ship.
The Zahro Express became engulfed by fire on Sunday shortly after it set off from Jakarta carrying about 250 local holidaymakers to celebrate the New Year on nearby Tidung island.
Panicked passengers fought over life jackets and jumped into the sea as the huge blaze tore through the ferry after starting in the engine room. The authorities blame an electrical fault for the accident.
Most were rescued but 23 died and 50 were injured, with 19 still in hospital yesterday, according to the disaster agency.
Police yesterday said the captain, named in local reports as Mr Muhammad Nali, had been detained on Sunday and was being questioned over suspected negligence in relation to the fire, which reduced the boat to a blackened wreck.
Several local media outlets reported that the captain had jumped ship first, abandoning the tourists as the fire erupted, and was found floating in the sea before being rescued.
Mr Tonny Budiono, a senior official at the Transport Ministry, vowed to punish the captain if the allegations turned out to be true.
"If the captain jumped first, then he is not a real captain - the captain should be the last," he was quoted as saying in local media.
"If it is true, we will revoke his licence, he will not be allowed to sail anymore."
Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono confirmed that they were "still investigating the case and questioning the captain", but did not give further details.
The boat's manifest said it was carrying only about 100 passengers, less than half the true number, although the Transport Ministry has said it does not believe the vessel was overloaded.
The ministry has said a short circuit in the engine room may have caused the fire.
Mr Budiono said the boat was built in 2013 and was seaworthy, and the weather was good.
Officials said they believed that all passengers were now accounted for, but were having difficulties identifying some of the bodies because they were badly burnt.
Tidung is part of the Thousand Islands, an archipelago that is a popular weekend getaway for residents of the teeming and overcrowded capital of more than 10 million inhabitants.