01/13/2009, 00.00
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Ferry disaster: a careless captain and slim hopes of finding bodies

by Mathias Hariyadi
The ferry ignored storm warnings. 45 people were not registered on passenger list. The Ferry was over burdened with people and cargo. Survivor’s stories of saving themselves by clinging on to a bunch of bananas and swimming for hours through the dark.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – after two days searching by air and sea, hopes are fading of finding survivors from the sunken KM Teratai Prima. The ferry carrying at least 250 people sunk on the night between January 10th and 11th.

The bad weather is hampering efforts: 5 warships, one coastal airplane, 40 marines and 2 motorboats have been combing the seas.

So far only 34 people have been rescued alive, among them the ship’s captain, Basir.

Survivors are being brought to Makassar, in South Sulawesi.

17 year-old Rudi Alvian, saved himself by clinging onto a bunch of bananas until he was spotted by a rescue boat. The same story is told by 37 year-old Muhammad Yussuf. 29 year-old Yulianus Mangande, was woken by the sound of the ship as it rolled to the left before submerging.  “I had to swim for hours through the dark – he tells – until 11 in the morning when they rescued me”.

Meanwhile questions are being asked about who is responsible for the disaster. The KM Teratai Prima belongs to a private company, PT Nur Budi. Built in 1999 the ferry ran the route between Parepare (South Sulawesi) and Samarinda (East Kalimantan).

Minister for Transport Jusman Syafii Djamal has criticised the ship’s captain’s “ignorance”: despite having received storm forecast warnings he decided to embark on the crossing.  But perhaps this is not the only lamentable aspect of the disaster.

In Makassar, where hundreds of the victims families are gathered criticism is raining down on the captain, his crew and the company, who overloaded the ferry ignoring the dangers.  At least 45 of the missing people were not registered on passenger lists.  Daeng Gassing explains: “My husband, my son in law and my grandchild boarded the vessel bound for Samarinda. My son-in-law’s name is on the list, and he survived, but there is no trace of my husband or my grandchild’s name. How come?”. Another survivor Rudy Alfian, says neither was his name on the list: “I bought the ticket on board the ship”, he says, leading to believe that the money was pocketed by the crew on board.

According to PT Nur Budi representatives, ferry capacity was 205 passengers; instead there were at least 250 people on board.

It seems the ship was without radio equipment to launch emergency signals.  This now makes the search and rescue operation even more difficult.

Ruslan Nicholas, Police chief in Parepare, says another factor in the disaster was the overloading of cargo: the ferry was carrying over 274 tonnes of goods.


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