Why are ferry accidents common in Indonesia? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 26.06.2018
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Why are ferry accidents common in Indonesia?

The sinking of a ferry on Lake Toba, North Sumatra, is one of Indonesia's deadliest maritime disasters. In a DW interview, maritime security expert, Siswanto Rusdi, explains why these accidents are common in the country.

With some 17,000 islands in the vast archipelago, Indonesia is a country that relies heavily on water transportation. But it doesn't come without risks, and maritime accidents with high death tolls are quite common in the Southeast Asian country.

On June 17, the Sinar Bangun ferry capsized during rough weather on Lake Toba in North Sumatra. So far, search and rescue teams have found 22 passengers – 19 of those alive. Officials said many of the dead are still likely trapped inside the vessel's lower deck.

While the exact number of people traveling on the overloaded ferry remains unknown, the authorities have estimated that over 200 passengers could be on board. The ferry's maximum capacity was 60 passengers.

The weak enforcement of maritime safety regulations has often been cited for ferry disasters.

DW spoke to Siswanto Rusdi, director of the National Maritime Institute in Indonesia, to find out the cause of frequent maritime accidents in the country.

Read more: Indonesia Lake Toba ferry accident: Captain detained for questioning

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Rescue efforts continue for Indonesia ferry victims

DW: There have been four maritime accidents in Indonesia only in June. Why do these tragedies happen so regularly in the country?

Siswanto Rusdi: I have to say that Indonesia's maritime safety framework and its implementation are flawed. The local government is responsible for the safety of small boats and vessels. But the problem is that local governments do not have sufficient funds or human resources to enforce and ensure these safety standards.

For instance, some harbors either have no railings or have railings that do not meet the safety standards. Most harbors have barriers that are only 10 to 20 meters long, which, during the holiday season, risk collapse. And that is only one example of the situation on the docks. Safety on the sea is another issue.

So you think that the main problem is a lack of funds?

There are tasks and responsibilities that the central government in Jakarta delegates to the local governments, but without funds they cannot perform those tasks.

Read more: Deadly fire engulfs Indonesian tourist ferry

Corruption is rife in Indonesia. More funds for the local governments could be misused. How should the government solve this problem?

It is true. But it is still important that the local governments receive more money to ensure maritime security. But the central government is not interested in empowering local governments.

The Non-Convention Vessel Standard (NCVS) guidelines were introduced by the ministry of transport almost a decade ago. Why hasn't it been implemented?

The ministry launched the NCVS on September 17, 2009, but to this day it is unclear who actually implements it. We also don't know who is responsible to evaluate a ship's seaworthiness, its safety equipment and navigational tools.

Without these necessary checks, these vessels continue to sail into small ports, transport passengers and goods.

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But aren't these vessels already monitored by the local governments' transportation departments?

Yes, but only to some extent. The certification process for ships is carried out only by marine inspectors of the transport ministry. So far such tasks have not been delegated to the local governments. So when ship owners apply for certificates, local officers don't have much say in it.

After the Sinar Bangun tragedy, the transport minister should have resigned from his post. The ministry's response to the ferry disaster has not been unsatisfactory.

Siswanto Rusdi is the director and founder of the National Maritime Institute (Namarin) in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The interview was conducted by Nurzakiah Ahmad.

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