JAKARTA — Some 70 people are dead or missing after a ferry ran aground off the coast of Indonesia, according to an updated official toll on Wednesday, the latest deadly maritime accident in the Southeast Asian archipelago.
The KM Lestari was carrying about 140 passengers and dozens of vehicles when the accident happened on Tuesday afternoon about 300 metres from shore near Sulawesi island, north of Indonesia’s most populous island Java.
Images from the scene showed terrified passengers clinging to the side of the tipped over ferry, while others floated in the sea awaiting help.
Waves swamped the boat’s deck, taking trucks and other vehicles into the sea, as rescuers battled high winds and rough seas to pluck victims from the water.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said 29 people died in the accident while another 41 are still missing. Nearly 70 people have been rescued, it added.
The deadly incident came on the same day authorities officially called off the search for more than 160 people missing after another ferry sank on a volcanic lake in Sumatra two weeks ago.
The vessel was believed to be operating illegally with no manifest and not enough life jackets when it disappeared into the depths of Lake Toba, a picturesque tourist spot in Sumatra.
While some bodies have been recovered, many are believed to be trapped inside the sunken vessel at the bottom of one of the world’s deepest lakes, which plunges 500 metres in spots.
In the latest accident, a fleet of smaller boats, including local fishing vessels, worked to save passengers as bad weather prevented larger craft from approaching the stricken ferry, the transportation ministry said earlier.
It added that most passengers had been wearing life jackets.
The 48-metre vessel was sailing from Sulawesi to nearby Selayar island when it ran into strong winds and high waves.
Deadly maritime accidents are not uncommon in Indonesia, where many people depend on boats to get around the 17,000 island nation despite lax safety standards.
More than 300 people are estimated to have drowned in 2009 when a ferry sank between Sulawesi and Borneo islands. — AFP