Initial investigations have indicated that the ferry capsized after being hit by high waves, while police say investigators are trying to determine why the captain ignored a storm warning and set sail in a ferry that exceeded its passenger capacity.

If he is convicted of negligence causing loss of life he could be jailed for up to five years.

Storm

Initial findings have shown that the ferry
had been overcrowded [EPA]
The ferry was hit by a severe storm about 10 hours after leaving Pare-Pare port on the west coast of Sulawesi while travelling to the city of Samarinda in East Kalimantan province.

The ferry operator has denied that the ship was overloaded, but officials have said there have been indications it was carrying up to a hundred more people than the 267 listed in the official passenger manifest.

The ferry was reportedly licensed to carry a maximum of 300 passengers.

Kunto Prayogo, the chief investigator for Indonesia's National Transport Safety Committee, said investigators would examine whether possible overloading could have contributed to the disaster.

Ferries provide a vital link among Indonesia's sprawling islands but accidents are common mainly because of poor infrastructure and safety standards.

The Teratai Prima disaster is the worst since December 2006 when a ferry sank in a storm off the coast of Java, killing more than 500 people.