Storms hamper Indonesia ferry hunt

Hopes fade for 250 still missing as heavy winds and rain hit search efforts.

    Few survivors have been found since the ferry capsized on Sunday [EPA]

    Indonesia ferry disasters

    December 2006
    More than 400 people killed after ferry breaks apart and sinks in Java Sea during violent storm.

    February 2007
    At least 42 people killed in fire on ferry carrying 330 passengers.

    July 2007
    Passenger ship carrying 70 people disappears off eastern Indonesia after reporting engine failure in stormy seas.

    "The wind is strong and right now it has been raining heavily. This is a problem."

    Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for Indonesia's transport ministry, said authorities were waiting for a cargo ship that might be carrying seven more survivors to arrive in the port of Makassar in Sulawesi.

    The ferry's captain - who also survived - was being investigated for allegedly ignoring warnings from the Indonesian weather agency that conditions on the route were too dangerous.

    However, Jusman Syafi'i Djamal, the transport minister, said on Monday that port authorities had given the ferry the go-ahead to leave and conditions were clear when it left.

    'Swept away'

    Survivors of the ferry meanwhile have been recalling how the ferry was hit by relentless heavy waves before capsizing in the dark.

    "I lost hold of my son and my father-in-law when a big wave hit me"

    Sampara Gassing, survivor.

    Baco, a ferry passenger, told the Associated Press that he was asleep in the ship's lower, economy-class deck when sea water rushed in.

    "Many people were still sleeping when the water came to the second deck just above the engine room. Around 20 little children were taken by the sea. I could do nothing." he said.

    Baco clung to a piece of plastic foam and drifted for five hours before joining another man on a life raft. They were later picked up by fishermen.

    Sampara Gassing, another survivor, floated on a tire for two hours before he was rescued.

    "I lost hold of my son and my father-in-law when a big wave hit me,'' he said

    "People were screaming, 'Help, help!'''

    Conflicting numbers

    Relatives of the missing continue to wait for news as storms hamper search efforts [EPA]
    Indonesian officials have denied suggestions that the vessel, which had a capacity of 300 passengers, was overloaded at the time of the accident.
    However, manifests on passengers using Indonesian ferries are often unreliable, and according to Daeng Gassing, another survivor, he was not on the passenger list.

    "I was not in the list of passengers because I bought the ticket on the ferry," he told Reuters.

    Local officials in Pale-Pale said the original manifest was based on tickets purchased until just before the ferry departed, but they confirmed it was possible that more latecomers may have bought tickets on board the ferry.

    Ferry transport is a crucial means of transport in Indonesia, a massive archipelago of some 17,000 islands and 234 million people.

    But the country's ageing transport system has been plagued by a spate of disasters in recent years including ferry and air accidents.

    Sea accidents routinely claim hundreds of lives each year, largely due to poor enforcement of safety regulations and overcrowding.

    Al Jazeera's Jakarta correspondent, Step Vassen, says there have been many recommendations for safety improvements made in recent years, but it is hard to see how many have been acted on.

    The Indonesian government has said it will compensate families $2,400, or roughly two times the average annual salary, for each victim of the disaster.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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