TIGARAS (Indonesia) • Indonesian police yesterday questioned the captain of a ferry that sank without trace in a volcanic lake in Sumatra this week, warning that a criminal investigation could be launched over a disaster that has left at least 192 people missing.
Desperate relatives awaiting news of loved ones prayed and sang hymns at the port on Lake Toba, after one of Indonesia's worst ferry disasters in years left four confirmed dead and 18 survivors, including the captain.
"We see there's a possibility to begin a criminal investigation because of negligence that resulted in people losing their lives," national police chief Tito Karnavian said during a visit to the base of rescue operations at the lake, one of the world's deepest.
"The captain may be named a suspect," General Tito said, adding that regional transport officials would also be questioned about supervision. The authorities were trying to get clearer information from the captain and survivors on where the vessel went down.
"(The captain's) health remains unstable. We asked him some questions, but he has yet to remember clearly," police official Agus Darojat told Metro TV.
Teams of divers resumed a search for the wooden ferry, which may have had on board nearly five times the number of passengers it was supposed to carry when it went down in bad weather on Monday.
"We've expanded (the search area) from 6km to 10km," Mr Budiawan, an official of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, told reporters.
The authorities were waiting for more sophisticated navy equipment that can plumb depths of as much as 450m in some places, he added.
On the quay, hundreds of people sang hymns, some in the regional Batak language, in an area of predominantly Muslim Indonesia that is home to a large Christian community.
The South-east Asian nation frequently suffers boat sinkings, with basic safety rules often flouted and vessels overloaded.
Last week, 13 died after a boat carrying about 43 people sank off Makassar on Sulawesi island, while a speedboat carrying 30 passengers sank off South Sumatra, killing at least two.A 1997 sinking in Lake Toba killed about 80 people.