February 2, 2006

About 40 missing from sunken Indonesian ferry: official

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Two days after after a ferry sank in
heavy seas in Indonesia's east, nearly 40 people were still
missing, a rescue official said on Thursday, although estimates
of the number of people on the ship have varied widely.

Indonesian naval vessels rescued more than 100 people after
the ferry, traveling from Kupang on Indonesia's side of Timor
island to nearby Rote island, ran into trouble on Tuesday

"We have found another three people stranded on an island
nearby. One died," search and rescue operation chief Colonel
Agus Susilo told Reuters by telephone on Thursday around midday
local time.

That would bring the number known to have been rescued and
survived to 115, and the known dead to two.

Asked about the number missing, Susilo said: "Around 37.
That is according to the briefing we had half an hour ago. That
is the latest figure."

He said the estimates of the missing are based on survivor
reports on how many people they believed to be aboard.

Officials had earlier given higher figures for the number
of missing and different officials have given different figures
for the number of passengers and crew on the ferry manifest,
but agree it listed less than 100.

However, it is common for Indonesian ferries to carry
considerably more passengers than are listed. Some might have
boarded without tickets, officials said, noting a frequent
practice across the world's biggest archipelago.

Susilo said he believed the ferry had the capacity to carry
a maximum of 400 adults, although on this particular trip it
was carrying a number of cars and trucks as well as people.

Officials have suggested bad weather caused the sinking.

"It is most likely the ship sank after being slammed by
very strong waves due to bad weather," port official Marthen
Manu told Reuters on Wednesday. He said the waves had been up
to 5 metres (16 ft) high.

Ill or injured survivors were taken to hospitals in Kupang,
about 1,200 miles east of Jakarta.

Despite persistent heavy rains, rescue efforts are expected
to continue for several days.

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

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. Some sink each year, especially in the
eastern and less developed parts of the country.