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Scores feared dead as ferry sinks in Indonesia

Rescued captain says it was hit by a cyclone

Published:

An Indonesian ferry carrying 250 passengers capsized and sank after being battered by a large wave in bad weather in the country's east on Sunday, officials said.

The ferry was about 50 kilometers (30 miles) off Majene, western Sulawesi, when authorities lost contact with it around 2:00 am (1800 GMT Saturday), officials said.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal said he believed about 150 people had been found alive but fears were mounting for 100 others who remained lost at sea.

"The ferry with 250 passengers on board was hit by a cyclone. This is based on the account of the ferry's captain who was rescued alive by fishermen late this afternoon," he told AFP.

"One hundred people are still missing while 150 people have been found, but it's not clear how many are alive or dead. But based on the reports I've received, I can assume they are all in good condition."

Bad weather

However sea transport department Director General Sunaryo said only 18 survivors had been rescued by fishermen.

"Rescue teams from the police and the navy have been sent but bad weather and high waves have hampered the search," he said.

Two navy patrol boats were involved in the search, which would continue throughout the night despite the heavy weather.

"Rescue teams will work 24-hours, non-stop to search for survivors," Sunaryo said.

The ferry was travelling from Pare-Pare on the west coast of Sulawesi island to the city of Samarinda on Indonesia's side of Borneo island when it ran into bad weather, said Taufik Bulu, head of maritime safety at Pare-Pare port.

Indonesia's Elshinta radio station broadcast the sound of relatives weeping as they waited in Samarinda for news of those who had been aboard the ferry.

Rescue teams will work 24-hours, non-stop to search for survivors,

Sea Transport Director General Sunaryo

Common accidents

Indonesia relies heavily on ferry services to connect the main islands in the archipelago, the world's largest.

But accidents are common, largely because of years of under-investment in the country's infrastructure and a tendency to overload ferries.

Indonesia's Metro TV, quoting an official in Pare-Pare, said the ferry was not overcrowded and had the capacity to carry up to 300 passengers.

Indonesia has come under considerable pressure in recent years to improve its transportation sector following several serious accidents.

On Dec. 30, 2006, a ferry with at least 600 people onboard sank during a stormy night as it travelled between the islands of Borneo and Java. About 250 survivors were eventually found in the days after the accident.

A couple of months later at least 42 people were killed when fire broke out aboard a ferry that was heading from Jakarta to Bangka island off Sumatra.

Nine people were killed when a third ferry caught fire at sea in remote Maluku province in September last year.

And in May last year a ferry caught fire in a river in Borneo island but all of the nearly 800 people on board survived.

There have also been several accidents involving Indonesia's domestic airlines, prompting the European Union to ban Indonesian carriers from its airspace.