Storm sinks Indonesian ferry, 250 feared dead

January 11, 2009 7:54:52 PM PST
Rocky seas hindered rescuers Monday as they searched for nearly 250 people missing and feared dead after a ferry capsized off Indonesia's Sulawesi island. About 250 passengers and 17 crew were believed to have been aboard the 700-ton Teratai Prima when it sank Sunday morning as it traveled from the western port of Parepare to Samarinda on the Indonesian half of Borneo island.

At least 22 people, including four crew members, were rescued from the sea by fishermen Sunday before the military launched an operation at daybreak Monday. Indonesians generally don't know how to swim, and the others on board were feared dead.

Nearly 250 people were still missing, said Junaidi, a port official in Parepare, where some of the survivors were taken to a hospital. He uses one name, which is customary in Indonesia.

The ferry went down 30 miles (50 kilometers) off the coast off western Sulawesi.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal said the captain - who was among those pulled alive from the sea - reported that 150 people jumped off the boat before it sank, but he did not know what happened to them.

"We have prepared a search and rescue operation, but now there are high waves hampering the process," Djamal said.

The ship, carrying about 18 tons of cargo, radioed that it was "hit by a storm" before it went down, said Nurwahida, a port official. He also uses one name.

The closest town to the accident site is Majene, about 850 miles (1,370 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Jakarta.

Boats are a major form of transportation in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and a population of 235 million. Poor enforcement of safety regulations and overcrowding causes accidents that claim hundreds of lives each year.

In December 2006, a crowded Indonesian ferry broke apart and sank in the Java Sea during a violent storm, killing more than 400 people.