At least 31 dead and 35 missing after loss of Indonesian passenger ferry

Friday, October 19, 2007

Map showing location of Sulawesi Island (light green) among the islands of Indonesia.

At least 31 people have died and 35 more are missing after wooden passenger ferry Acita III sank off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia. At least 125 more have been rescued.

The vessel capsized and sank at approximately 9 p.m. local time last night, going down near the port town of Bau Bau. It has been suggested that bad weather was the cause of the disaster, but Bau Bau mayor Amirul Tamin has told reporters that he believes overcrowding was a much more likely cause.

An alternative explanation was offered by local police chief Mochammad Badrus, who says that the ship capsized after large numbers of passengers clambered onto an upper deck in attempts to gain mobile phone signals as the ferry neared land. Local residents and fisherman say they could hear people screaming for help as the accident unfolded.

Passenger manifests are rare and usually inaccurate when they are available in Indonesia, so passenger numbers are unconfirmed, but the ship was thought to have been carrying 150 - 200 people. However, Tamin has said that the ferry should only have been carrying a maximum of 30 passengers.

It is Indonesia's most serious ferry accident since the Levina 1 caught fire in February, which, in turn, came after MV Senopati Nusantara sank during a storm in late December.