Indonesian president orders probe into ferry disaster
INDONESIAN President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday, Januari 14, 2009, ordered a tough investigation into the ferry disaster that left 230 people missing, feared dead, as angry relatives condemned the government’s search efforts.
Only 35 survivors and two bodies have been found in the treacherous Makassar Strait off western Sulawesi since the ferry went down in a storm on Sunday, and authorities admit there is little chance of finding the missing alive.
A probe is already under way amid claims that the ferry’s captain, who survived, ignored storm warnings, that port authorities allowed the ferry to be overloaded and that it was not properly equipped with safety gear.
Some of the survivors managed to stay afloat only thanks to bunches of bananas washed out of the vessel’s cargo hold, and most appear to have been found by fishermen and passing cargo ships. Officials have been reluctant to lay any blame until the investigation is complete. Australian experts are flying to Indonesia to help with the probe.
Yudhoyono, facing a re-election battle this year, told a meeting in Jakarta of senior officials including Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal that maritime authorities had to “check all ships’ safety equipment.”
“Don’t ever issue a permit to sail if a ship if a ship is not seaworthy,” he reminded the assembled officials in his first public comments on the disaster, adding that they should also keep a close eye on weather forecasts. “A comprehensive investigation must be done. Don’t react too softly. We have to protect our people’s lives.”
The navy and air force have been helping local rescue teams look for survivors since Sunday but their operations have been hampered by heavy rain and high seas. More warships and helicopters were deployed on Wednesday, but with so few bodies found, officials said most of the missing passengers and crew were probably trapped inside the sunken ship.
“The ferry sank in the middle of the night while passengers were asleep, and it sank very fast, making it impossible for them to flee,” transport ministry official Sunaryo said. He said a navy ship was searching for the wreck of the ferry on the seabed at a depth of about 1,800 metres.
Meanwhile, officials said nine crew members were missing after an Indonesian cargo ship sank in heavy seas off Sumatra island. Four crew were rescued from the Bangka Jaya Express and emergency services were searching for the others after the accident off Bangka Belitung province, they said. (channelnewsasia.com)