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Indonesia

At least 12 dead in new Indonesia ferry sinking as search ends for dozens of Lake Toba victims

Disaster comes same day authorities officially called off the search for 164 people missing after another ferry sank on a popular tourist lake two weeks ago

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 10:28pm

At least 12 people were killed and a frantic rescue operation was underway Tuesday off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi for dozens of passengers of a sinking passenger ferry run aground by its captain in a desperate bid to save lives.

South Sulawesi province police spokesman Dicky Sondani said the Lestari Maju ferry was about 200 metres from shore.

It had 139 people on board, according to its manifest, as well as cars, trucks and motorcycles.

Photos distributed via the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed passengers perched on the listing vessel as others descended into the heavy seas using ropes hung over its side.

Most appeared to be wearing life jackets.

The latest in a succession of boat tragedies in Indonesia comes on the same day that officials called off a search for 164 people presumed drowned when a wooden ferry sank two weeks ago in a deep volcanic crater lake on the island of Sumatra.

Sondani said the captain steered the 48.5-metre-long (159 feet) vessel toward shore after it began sinking on a voyage from the port of Bira to Selayar island, just south of the main Sulawesi island.

Director general of Sea Transportation Agus Purnomo said that the captain’s actions were helping the rescue effort.

Selayar district chief Basli Ali said 11 people, including a child, were dead. More than 30 people have been rescued and eight of them were being treated in a hospital, he said.

“We are still trying to evacuate the passengers with help from the police, army, search and rescue agency as well as locals,” Ali said.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame.

The Lake Toba sinking on June 18 was the worst in about a decade.

The vessel was believed to be operating illegally with no manifest and an insufficient number of life jackets when it went down.

Authorities have said they pinpointed the boat by using remotely operated underwater vehicles at some 420 metres (1,475 feet) below the surface of the lake.

But the lake’s vast depths posed a massive challenge to rescuers trying to recover the boat and missing passengers.

Hundreds of people relatives and friends of the victims – have kept a vigil by the shore as they waited for news about their loved ones.

Officials met with the families to explain that the search was going to be officially called off on Tuesday.

“Most of the victims’ relatives agreed but some others asked that the search be extended,” Riadil Lubis, head of the North Sumatra disaster agency, said.

Just three passengers had earlier been confirmed dead in the accident, with 21 survivors.

Official estimates list 164 others – including children – as missing.

They are presumed dead, with many bodies thought to be trapped inside the sunken ferry.

Lake Toba, which fills the crater of a supervolcano that exploded in a massive eruption tens of thousands of years ago, is one of the world’s deepest lakes, plunging to around 500 metres in places.

The traditional wooden boat could have been carrying five times the number of passengers it was built to hold, along with dozens of motorcycles, officials have said.

Five suspects have been named, including the boat’s captain, as well as local port and transport officials.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse