At least nine dead after Indonesian ferry burns and sinks

Saturday, September 27, 2008

At least nine people have been killed after a wooden ferry caught fire and sank in Indonesia. The Usaha Baru was carrying 77 passengers and crew when fire broke out within sight of land.

Eight are confirmed dead and a two-year-old boy is missing and presumed dead. It is thought that the others all escaped the ship, and 35 are hospitalised in Ambon and receiving treatment for burns. Many survivors were rescued by fishermen in the area.

Local authorities say it appears those on board panicked after a fire broke out in the engine room, but it is difficult to know exactly what happened at this stage because the ship was extensively damaged by fire before sinking.

Search and rescue operations for the missing child - one of four children and one teenager killed - are ongoing at the site, which is near the small village of Salahutu, from which many of the rescuers came.

Almost all of the passengers were Muslims headed home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Ferry accidents are common in the island nation of Indonesia, where the fleet is largely old and overcrowded.