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Asia

Deadly fire engulfs Indonesian tourist ferry

Multiple fatalities have been reported after a ferry burst into flames after leaving Indonesia's capital. Footage showed people in the water with the boat burning behind them. The fire reportedly began in the engine bay.

At least 23 people died and 17 were still missing after a fire devastated the boat on Sunday shortly after departing Jakarta's port of Muara Angke.

Witnesses told local broadcasters that the fire broke out about 15 minutes after departure and began with smoke pouring from the ferry's engine.

"Thick smoke suddenly appeared in the cabin," said one survivor, hospitalized in the country's capital city Jakarta.

"All the passengers were panicked and rushed to the bridge to throw buoys into the water. In a split second, the fire swelled because it came from the fuel tank."

Red Cross and rescue workers carry body bags with the remains of victims from a boat fire at Muara Angke port in Jakarta (Reuters/D.Whiteside)

The fire reportedly began in the engine bay and spread from there

Television footage showed people in the water, with the ferry in flames in the background. A woman in the water was screaming "Ya Allah! Ya Allah!" or "Oh God! Oh God!"

The vessel was reported to be carrying more than 230 holiday-makers and crew and was bound for Tidung, a resort island in the Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands) chain.

"The fire started in the boat's power generator and soon ripped through the boat,"  local police spokesman Ferry Budiharso said.

The Zahro Express's manifest listed about 100 passengers on-board but disaster agency spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the number rescued so far indicated that it was far higher.

"The boat's manifest says there are around 100 people on board, but obviously that's wrong, so we are still searching," he said. 

Acting Jakarta governor Sumarsono ruled out the possibility that the vessel was over capacity, 

Local media reported that most of the passengers were Indonesians celebrating the new year holiday.

Ten ships were still searching for those who were missing, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said in a statement.

Boat mishaps are relatively common in Indonesia. In September a tourist boat near Bali exploded, kiling two foreigners and injuring about 20 others.

In November at least 54 people died after an overcrowded speedboat struck a reef and sank on its way from Malaysia to the Indonesian island of Batam in the South China Sea.

aw/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)