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Death toll in sunk ferry may end up being over 300

Latest update : 2009-01-16

An Indonesian ferry that sank last Sunday may have been carrying 103 people more than those listed on its manifest, officials said Thursday, raising the prospect of a death toll topping 330. Bad weather has hindered rescue attempts.

AFP - An Indonesian ferry that sank at the weekend may have been carrying 103 people more than those listed on its manifest, officials said Thursday, raising the prospect of a death toll topping 330.

But officials still could not say whether the ferry was overloaded when it set sail from Sulawesi island to Borneo on Saturday.

Some 250 passengers and 17 crew were listed on the Teratai Prima's manifest but only 35 have been found alive since the ferry sank in heavy seas whipped up by a tropical storm in the Makassar Strait early Sunday, officials said.

"Based on reports from relatives there were at least 103 passengers who were not listed on the boat's manifest," transport ministry spokesman Bambang Erfan said.

He said that while this could mean as many as 370 people were on the ferry when it left Pare-Pare port, western Sulawesi, the numbers could also be misleading.

"We're investigating whether they used different names like nicknames or there were more passengers than the number registered," he said.

"We haven't arrived at any conclusion that the boat was over capacity."

Four more bodies were found Thursday as the weather in the strait improved and the navy was able to deploy more assets in the search operation, officials said. No survivors have been found since Wednesday morning.

As monsoon storms swept across the vast archipelago, search and rescue operations were also underway off Sumatra island after two vessels sank there on Tuesday night, with six confirmed dead and 29 missing, officials said.

After three days of inaction, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday ordered a tough investigation into the ferry disaster, the worst in Indonesia since a ferry sank in December 2006 killing 500.

A probe is already under way amid claims that the ferry's captain, who survived, ignored storm warnings and that port authorities allowed the ferry to exceed its passenger capacity.

Port officials in the Sulawesi town of Majene, where many of the survivors have been brought, said there were no babies and children on the manifest and almost half of the survivors' names were not listed either.

Grieving relative Rahman said 10 members of his family had boarded the ferry after buying discount tickets from crew members instead of the port's ticketing authority.

"Only one of them survived, the others are still missing," he said.

Transport ministry official Sunaryo said port authorities could not be expected to keep track of passenger numbers.

"The ship owner or the shipping company should be the ones to come up with the list," he said.

"The number of administrative assistants at the port is too small, you cannot expect them to check that every single passenger is on the manifest."

Meanwhile police said five people were killed and 23 were missing after a boat carrying 48 Indonesian workers from Malaysia sank in rough seas off Sumatra on Tuesday.

The wooden boat was sailing from Penang island on the west coast of Malaysia to Indonesia's Aceh province when it sank in the Malacca Strait, police said.

One crew member was found dead and two alive after a cargo ship was caught in a storm and sank off southeastern Sumatra, also on Tuesday. Six crew remain missing.

Yudhoyono, facing a re-election battle this year, told a meeting Wednesday of officials including Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal that maritime authorities had to "check all ships' safety equipment."

The ex-general promised a transport safety overhaul after the 2006 disaster but ferries continue to sink regularly in the archipelago of 17,000 islands.


Date created : 2009-01-15