February 2, 2006

About 40 missing from sunken Indonesian ferry-official

KUPANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - Two days 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.

The Indonesian navy has rescued more than 100 people since
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.

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

Susilo said "around 37" people were missing, the estimates
based on survivor reports on how many people they believed to
have been aboard.

One survivor recalled the final moments before the ferry

"All of a sudden the lights went off when a very big wave
hit the boat. We all got separated and I managed to get off the
ferry by kicking off a door," Watiadu told Reuters Television.

Wrapped in a blanket and sitting aboard the navy ship that
rescued him on Wednesday, Watiadu said he had been separated
from his wife and child who were still missing.

During the rescue mission, navy officials also pulled out
some survivors who had floated for hours clinging to a

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


Officials had earlier given higher figures for the number
of missing, and different officials gave 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 largest archipelago.

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

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 16 ft high.

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

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

Ferries are the most common means of transport between 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. (Additional
reporting by Reuters Television)