SELAYAR, INDONESIA (AFP) - Nearly three dozen people have died after a ferry ran aground off the coast of Indonesia, according to an updated official toll on Wednesday (July 4), the latest deadly maritime accident in the South-east Asian archipelago.
The KM Lestari was believed to be carrying nearly 190 people when damage to its hull forced the captain to ground the vessel on Tuesday afternoon about 300m off Selayar island, near the larger island of Sulawesi.
Images from the scene showed terrified passengers clinging to the side of the tipped-over ferry, while others floated in the sea awaiting help.
Waves swamped the boat's deck, sweeping trucks and other vehicles on the ferry overboard, as rescuers battled high winds and rough seas to pluck victims from the water.
Indonesia's disaster agency said 34 people died in the accident while 155 passengers have been rescued, it added.
A fleet of smaller boats, including local fishing vessels, worked to save passengers as bad weather prevented larger craft from approaching the stricken ferry, the Transportation Ministry said.
It added that most passengers had been wearing life jackets.
"The captain and ship owner were the last two people to get off the ship," Agus H. Purnomo, a director at the ministry said in a statement.
The 48m vessel was sailing from Sulawesi to nearby Selayar island when strong winds and high waves caused damage to its portside hull and it began taking on water.
The captain deliberately ran the boat aground close to shore in an effort to reduce casualties, the ministry said.
The authorities warned that the boat's owner could face charges.
"If the boat was found to be not seaworthy we will take firm action against the operator," Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi.
The ship was also carrying some US$2 million (S$2.7 million) worth of rupiah currency destined for a bank branch on Selayar to pay local civil servants a bonus.
The money was retrieved from the boat on Wednesday, still neatly packed in seven gunny sacks.
The incident came on the same day the authorities officially called off the search for more than 160 people missing after another ferry sank at a volcanic lake in Sumatra two weeks ago.
The vessel was believed to be operating illegally with no manifest and not enough life jackets when it disappeared into the depths of Lake Toba, a picturesque tourist spot.
While some bodies have been recovered, many are believed to be trapped inside the sunken vessel at the bottom of one of the world's deepest lakes, which plunges 500m in spots.
Deadly maritime accidents are not uncommon in Indonesia, where many people depend on boats to get around the 17,000-island nation despite lax safety standards.
More than 300 people are estimated to have drowned in 2009 when a ferry sank between Sulawesi and Borneo islands.