Hopes of finding further survivors of the ferry disaster off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are fading. About 250 people are feared to have died after a passenger ferry capsized on Sunday morning.
The ferry was on its way between the islands of Sulawesi (yellow) and Borneo (west of it)
The 700-ton "Teratai Prima" had been on an overnight journey between the islands of Sulawesi and Borneo (also known as Kalimantan) when it was struck by a tropical storm. Most passengers were asleep at two a.m. local time. Survivors said the vessel was hit by up to four meter high waves. Indonesia’s transport minister, Jusman Syafi’i Djamal explained:
"The weather was very bad at the time of the accident. The captain, who has been rescued, said that his boat was suddenly hit by a very strong wind - he called it a whirlwind – on the left-hand side. The boat sank immediately. Until now 18 passengers and 3 crew members including the captain have been found alive."
Rescue work hampered by rough weather
Although a few more people were rescued from the sea later on Monday, it seemed less and less likely that a substantial number of survivors would still be found. Rescue efforts with several boats and an aircraft have been hampered by rough seas and torrential rain storms. Most survivors had harrowing stories to tell: 17-year-old Rudi Alvian told reporters he had been saved by clinging to a bunch of bananas before making it onto a lifeboat.
Tatang Kurniadi, head of Indonesia’s Transport Safety Commission, said: "We don’t know yet what led to the accident. But we do know three factors: The captain is well qualified. He sails on this route once every week. The ship’s data are ok, we don’t have any information about overloading. But weather conditions were extremely bad. The meteorological office had issued warnings for the whole of Indonesia because of the bad weather."
Nevertheless, the captain had apparently decided to sail and had been supported in this by port authorities in Pare-Pare, on Sulawesi island, as conditions were calm at that time.
A history of disasters
The disaster is bound to raise new questions about transportation safety in the country. A nation of thousands of islands, Indonesia is heavily dependent on ferries for the transport of passengers and goods. There have been several major ferry accidents over the last few years – the worst about two years ago when an estimated 400 people died on a ship between Borneo and Java.
As passenger lists tend not to be accurate, this time around, too, there might have been even more victims: Some eyewitnesses’ testimonies suggest that the Teratai Prima might in fact have had more people on board than the 250 registered passengers and 17 crew members.