INDONESIA

Ferry sinks with 267 on board

An Indonesian ferry carrying 250 passengers and 17 crew members sank on Sunday, maritime officials said. Many are feared dead as the authorities have so far located only 150 survivors.

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AFP - Scores of people are feared dead after a ferry carrying more than 260 passengers and crew sank in stormy seas off Indonesia's Sulawesi island early Sunday, officials said.

The ferry was about 50 kilometres (30 miles) off Majene, western Sulawesi, when authorities lost contact with it around 2:00 am (1800 GMT Saturday), officials said.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal said he believed about 150 people had been found alive but fears were mounting for 100 others who remained lost at sea.

"The ferry with 250 passengers on board was hit by a cyclone. This is based on the account of the ferry's captain who was rescued alive by fishermen late this afternoon," he told AFP.

"One hundred people are still missing while 150 people have been found, but it's not clear how many are alive or dead. But based on the reports I've received, I can assume they are all in good condition."

However sea transport department Director General Sunaryo said only 18 survivors had been rescued by fishermen.

"Rescue teams from the police and the navy have been sent but bad weather and high waves have hampered the search," he said.

Two navy patrol boats were involved in the search, which would continue throughout the night despite the heavy weather.

"Rescue teams will work 24-hours, non-stop to search for survivors," Sunaryo said.

Another official in Majene said the Teratai Prima was carrying about 250 passengers and 17 crew when it sank as it sailed from Pare-Pare in South Sulawesi to Samarinda in East Kalimantan.

A survivor told the local TVOne television station that four-metre (13-foot) waves hit the ferry before it went down. "I was with my wife and child ... I don't know where they are," he said.

The station said there were only three lifeboats on board the ferry but this has not been confirmed.

The state-run Antara news agency said the vessel went down at 4:00 am in heavy seas.

The area has been buffeted by storms, heavy rains and high winds for several days, causing flash flooding in some areas.

Anxious relatives and friends of the missing passengers were awaiting news at Samarinda.

"I tried this morning to reach them but none of their phones were on," one relative, Ruslan, was quoted as saying by Antara.

Ferries are a key form of transport in Indonesia, a massive archipelago of 234 million people which is in the midst of the tropical wet season.

Sinkings are common and the government has repeatedly vowed to improve safety regulations.

In December 2006 more than 500 people were killed when a ferry sank in a storm off the coast of Java.

Nine people were killed when a ferry caught fire at sea in remote Maluku province in September last year.

And in May last year a ferry caught fire in a river in Borneo island but all of the nearly 800 people on board survived.

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