February 1, 2006

More than 100 rescued from sunken Indonesian ferry

KUPANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesian naval vessels
rescued more than 100 people on Wednesday after a ferry sank in
heavy seas in the country's east, but dozens could still be
missing, port officials said.

Two navy ships had picked up 114 people, one port official,
Marthen Manu, told Reuters. One person was confirmed dead.

While the passenger manifest put the number of people on
board at 106, officials said it could have been as high as 160.

The ferry was traveling from Kupang on Indonesia's side of
Timor island to nearby Rote island when authorities lost
contact with it on Tuesday night.

"Many of the rescued passengers were wearing life vests ...
It is most likely the ship sank after being slammed by very
strong waves due to bad weather," Manu said, adding the waves
had been up to five meters high.

The two navy ships carrying the survivors had yet to return
to Kupang because of heavy rain and strong swells, Manu said.

Many survivors were exhausted after their ordeal, he added.

Passengers had enough time to put on life vests before the
ferry sank, one survivor told local television.

According to the manifest there were 86 passengers and 20
crew on board, but some more may have boarded the ferry without
paying for tickets, officials said, noting a practice common
across the world's largest archipelago.

A state shipping company had sent one of its vessels to
search for survivors but it had to turn back because of rough
seas, an official from the firm, Yohanes Yan Lilin said.

A naval surveillance plane had joined the search for

Kupang lies 1,200 miles east of Jakarta.

Ferries are the most common means of transport for people
wishing to travel around the 17,000 islands of Indonesia, where
sea connections are cheaper and more available than air routes.

But safety standards are not strictly enforced and many
ferries are overcrowded. A number sink each year, especially in
the eastern and less developed parts of the country.

The passenger capacity of the latest ferry to sink was not
immediately known. Besides passengers, it was also carrying a
number of cars and trucks.