Dozens dead in ferry accident off Sulawesi

Passengers awaiting help as they cling to the stricken ferry. The KM Lestari was believed to have been carrying close to 190 people when damage to its hull forced the captain to ground the vessel.
Passengers awaiting help as they cling to the stricken ferry. The KM Lestari was believed to have been carrying close to 190 people when damage to its hull forced the captain to ground the vessel.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SELAYAR (Indonesia) • Nearly three dozen people have died after a ferry ran aground off the coast of Indonesia, according to an updated official toll yesterday, 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.

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, adding that most passengers had been wearing life jackets.

"The captain and ship owner were the last two people to get off the ship," Mr Agus Purnomo, a director at the Ministry of Transportation, said in a statement.

The 48-metre vessel was sailing from Sulawesi to nearby Selayar island when strong winds and high waves caused damage to its port-side hull and it began taking on water. The captain deliberately ran the boat aground close to shore in an effort to reduce casualties, the Transportation Ministry said.

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 boat was also carrying some S$2.7 million worth of rupiah 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 is the second major ferry disaster in two weeks in Indonesia and came the same day authorities officially called off the search for more than 160 people missing after another ferry sank in a volcanic lake in Sumatra a fortnight ago.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2018, with the headline 'Dozens dead in ferry accident off Sulawesi'. Print Edition | Subscribe