Captain of sunken ferry rescued, 70 still missing

Jakarta, December 22

The captain of an Indonesian ferry that sank in rough seas has been rescued floating in a life jacket two days after the accident but more than 70 others remain missing, officials said today.

The national search and rescue agency has so far found 40 survivors including the captain and four bodies off Sulawesi island, out of the 118 on board.

The captain, identified only as Asdar, was found floating in a life jacket late Monday and told rescuers what happened to his boat the previous Saturday.

“The captain said before the boat sank, five to seven metre-high waves hit the boat and entered the engine room,” operations director Ivan Titus told AFP. “That would kill the engine,” Titus added. Asdar said he told passengers and crew to put on life jackets, abandon ship and make for the life rafts which had been launched.

About 30 minutes later, the boat sank.

“At first they were huddling near the life rafts, in five, in ten, and in 15, but that only lasted until midnight,” Titus said.

People began to lose their grip on one another and some drowned because they suffered cramps in the cold water.

Asdar said he collected the bodies and tried to stop them drifting away by tying the life jackets together, but waves kept breaking the bodies apart.

He was being treated in hospital in Siwa, a small town which was the ferry’s intended destination.

A search team was deployed today to the location indicated by the captain but found only several life jackets and a life raft.

But the search would continue for several more days, the search and rescue agency said.

There had been warnings about strong winds and rough seas in the area in the days before the accident.

The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on ferry services but fatal accidents are common.

Just this week a Danish cargo ship collided with a tanker and sank in Indonesia’s west, with some crew still missing.