Up to 245 passengers of a sunken Indonesian ferry have been pulled out of choppy waters off the coast of Sumatra while at least 29 people were killed, officials say. Indonesian ferries have a poor safety record and overloading is a common practice.
AFP - Rescuers on Sunday desperately hunted for survivors in the waters off Indonesia's Sumatra island after a ferry sank in stormy seas, killing at least 29 people, officials said.
Nearly 250 people were pulled from the sea after the Dumai Express went down on Sunday morning in heavy rain and huge swells off Karimun island, near Singapore, in the north of the Indonesian archipelago.
"There were a total of 291 people on board the ferry," Rustam Pakaya, head of the health ministry's crisis centre, told AFP.
"The information we have is 29 people have died and 245 have been saved. This means 17 are still missing."
Overloading is common on vessels that ply the waters between the vast country's thousands of islands. The 147-tonne vessel had a capacity of 273 passengers and crew.
Fishermen were among the first on the scene and pulled many of the survivors from safety, officials said.
"I saw children running here and there on the ferry as they tried to escape but there weren't enough life jackets," a survivor told TVOne.
Officials feared some of the missing may have been trapped below deck, such was the speed at which the vessel sank.
"Strong waves hit the ferry and caused the front part to crack. Water got in and within half an hour it sank," navy Lieutenant Colonel Edwin told AFP.
"The ferry is underwater. We know its position but we have yet to check inside to see if there's anyone trapped."
Search and rescue efforts were suspended overnight, he said, and were to continue at first light on Monday.
Indonesia's 234 million people are spread across 17,000 islands and are heavily dependent on a network of ships and boats, which have a poor safety record.
Ferry disasters are common despite repeated official promises to tighten and enforce safety regulations.
Corruption is a major problem, with ships selling more tickets than they should and packing ferries with cargo in addition to passengers.
An investigation is underway to determine if overloading contributed to Sunday's accident, sea transport director-general Sunaryo said.
"If it was overloaded, that's against the rules and we won't tolerate that," he said.
"We will investigate if the ferry was fit to sail and if its documents were complete. We'll also check whether the ship's captain and port master went ahead despite the bad weather or if the weather changed."
Navy spokesman Iskandar Sitompul said the vessel sank after being hit by waves as high as three metres (10 feet), but other officials said the waves were towering up to six metres.
"We're not sure if anyone is trapped in the ferry. Those who have been rescued are traumatised," he said, adding that navy ships were helping with the search and rescue effort.
Earlier, transport ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan admitted that it was not uncommon for Indonesian ferries to be overloaded.
"In normal conditions ferries can sail with a bit of over-capacity, but in heavier seas it's not good for stability. We're still investigating the cause of the sinking," he said.
Another ferry travelling from Dumai to Moro island, near to where the Dumai Express sank, ran aground at around 2:00 pm but all 270 people on board were safe, Ervan said.
Up to 335 people were killed when a heavily overloaded ferry sank off Sulawesi island in January. In December 2006 a ferry went down in a storm off the coast of Java, killing more than 500 people.
Date created : 2009-11-22