Ferry in Lake Toba disaster thought to be four times overloaded

The death toll from an Indonesian ferry disaster could top 180, as authorities raised an estimate of the number of people missing two days after the wooden tourist boat sank in Lake Toba on the island of Sumatra.
Residents waiting as members of an Indonesian search and rescue team look for victims from the sunken boat in Lake Toba, Sumatra, yesterday. Besides divers and underwater vehicles, about 400 personnel have been deployed to search the huge lake in an
Residents waiting as members of an Indonesian search and rescue team look for victims from the sunken boat in Lake Toba, Sumatra, yesterday. Besides divers and underwater vehicles, about 400 personnel have been deployed to search the huge lake in an operation expected to last at least a week.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SIMALUNGUN (Sumatra) • Divers and an underwater drone yesterday joined a fleet of rescue vessels in Indonesia's search for at least 192 passengers missing two days after an overcrowded wooden ferry sank in one of the world's deepest volcanic lakes, in Sumatra.

The estimates of those missing have nearly tripled from earlier numbers given by the authorities.

The search-and-rescue agency cautioned it was still unclear how many people were aboard the vessel when it capsized. The traditional wooden boat which sank on Monday in Lake Toba, a popular tourist destination, was thought to be operating illegally with no manifest or passenger tickets.

The situation has sparked confusion about the number of passengers on the overcrowded boat.

Indonesia's disaster agency originally said some 80 people along with dozens of motorcycles were on the vessel when it overturned and sank.

It had a 43-passenger capacity, according to the Transport Ministry.

Four people were confirmed dead and 18 survivors picked up, but officials fear the death toll could be much higher.

The authorities have been relying for their estimates on families who have reported that missing relatives may have been on the vessel.

"Many people got on the boat without a ticket so it's unclear how many were on board," Mr Muhammad Syaugi, the head of the search and rescue agency, said.

Later, at a press conference, he said: "There are many people who have reported their relatives missing, but whether they were on the boat or not we don't know."

"We'll be here until they find my brother's body," said Ms Nurhayati, who was among hundreds of grief-stricken people waiting for updates. "We just want to see his body and take him with us."

A sobbing Ms Suwarni pleaded for news of her son and his fiancee, both believed to have been on board the doomed vessel. "Why are the rescue teams so slow?" said the 55-year-old who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.

"I'm so disappointed - there's no progress here."

Besides divers and underwater vehicles, about 400 personnel have been deployed to search the huge lake in an operation expected to last at least a week.

Lake Toba, which is popular with international and domestic tourists, fills the crater of a supervolcano that erupted tens of thousands of years ago. It is one of the world's deepest lakes and covers some 1,145 sq km. "We are looking to search as deep as 400m but we haven't found anything yet because the area is very large," said the rescue agency's Mr Syaugi.

Survivor accounts said the boat began shaking as it struggled to navigate strong winds and high waves about halfway into the 40-minute trip from an island in the middle of the lake to the shore.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Ferry in Lake Toba disaster thought to be four times overloaded'. Print Edition | Subscribe