Indonesia ferry sinks near Majene, more than 260 people missing

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Topographic map of Sulawesi.

MV Teratai Prima, a 700-ton Indonesian ferry with 300 passengers onboard, was struck by tropical cyclone Charlotte and sank at about 4 a.m. Sunday 30 miles (50 kilometers) off Majene, western Sulawesi. Majene district police head Adj. Sr. Comr. Suyatmo said that more than 260 people are missing and feared dead.

The ferry was bound for Samarinda, East Kalimantan, from Pare-Pare, South Sulawesi. Samarinda is the capital of the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan (Kalimantan Timur) on the island of Borneo. Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes, ˈsɛlɛbiz) is one of the four larger Sunda Islands of Indonesia and is situated between Borneo and the Maluku Islands. Majene is a town in West Sulawesi and it is the seat (capital) of Majene Regency.

According to Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal, 150 people jumped off the ship before it sank. The captain, Basir, who also survived the maritime tragedy, was under investigation for ignoring weather warnings. "There's a tropical cyclone now which caused tides of 13-foot-high (4-meter-high) to six metres," Djamal said. "At least 22 people — 18 passengers and four crew members — were rescued from the sea by fishermen before the military launched a search operation at daybreak Monday," he added. The survivors were saved by fishermen who found them drifting on three life rafts, according to Taufik.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

According to the captain, the 1999 ferry was inspected by the Transport Ministry on December 9 and was certified to be in good condition. "It seems that due to the weather conditions the chance is little, but we still hope," Djamal stated. With 17 crew members, and carrying 200 tons of cargo, the ill-fated PT Nur Budi owned and operated ferry sank so fast that the crew "had no chance to ask the passengers to wear life jackets."

"President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has instructed the National Search and Rescue Agency to continue searching for survivors," Jusman announced on Monday. "The Indonesian Navy has prepared three warships while the Air Force has prepared a Boeing 737 to help with evacuation," he added.

The ferry owner PT Nur Budi's spokesman blamed Indonesian port authorities for the tragedy. "The passenger capacity of the ferry is 205 people but the port administrator accepted more passengers as they thought it was possible," he said. The National Meteorological and Geophysics Agency, however, had published and raised an alert signal about high waves on Friday. It specifically stated that "Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th, Indonesian waters would have witnessed storm force waves," but despite the dire warnings KM Teratai set for the seas.

Col. Jaka Santosa reported that they found not one survivor amid hours of rescue operations in the treacherous waters of Makassar Strait, the same maritime site where 102 passengers perished on board an Adam Air plane which crashed on New Year's Day in 2007.

Locator map of West Sulawesi showing provincial boundaries.

Three warships, an airplane and a helicopter with Search and Rescue (SAR) vessels on Monday searched waters off Sulawesi's west coast. According to Col. Jaka Santosa and Rear Admiral Iskandar Sitompul, the rescue operations were hindered by driving rain, strong winds and giant waves of up to 13 feet (4 meters). "Two warships and one Nomad patrol aircraft from the navy are off West Sulawesi scouring for survivors. A team of 40 marines with two rubber boats are also involved in the search this morning," Sitompul said. "Eight patrol boats from provincial search and rescue teams are already in the area, and the navy as well as the air force are also involved in today's search," Djamal added.

According to Rustam Pakaya, head of the health ministry's crisis centre, six fatalities had already been confirmed on Monday. "There is a greater possibility that many more died than we expected because it happened when they were sleeping," Taufik Bulu, head of maritime safety in the port of Pare-Pare, explained.

The Indonesian archipelago is composed of more than 17,000 islands and has a population of 235 million. Ferry accidents are common in the island nation of Indonesia, where the fleet is largely old and overcrowded. In July 2005 about 200 died when a ferry capsized off eastern Indonesia. In December 2006, more than 638 perished when an overloaded Indonesian ship also sank in the Java Sea (between Borneo and Java) amid a turbulent storm. Only 250 people survived. In July 2007, 70 also perished in a ferry tragedy off eastern Indonesia, while at least 42 passengers perished when fire broke out aboard a boat that was heading from Jakarta to Bangka island off Sumatra in February 2007. In May, another ferry with about 800 passengers on board caught fire. It had no firefighting equipment, forcing evacuation of passengers by the Indonesian Navy. In late September, at least nine perished after another Indonesian ferry burned and sank.


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