- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

66 bodies found in the Java Sea

SEMARANG, Indonesia — Rescue boats picked up scores of exhausted survivors yesterday from an Indonesian ferry that sank in the Java Sea, but they also recovered dozens of bodies and about 400 people remained missing.

A fleet of navy ships, fishing vessels and aircraft has been scouring a large section of the central Indonesian coastline since the Senopati Nusantara capsized at about midnight Friday after being pounded by heavy waves for 10 hours.

By late afternoon yesterday, authorities had found 177 survivors, either clinging to pieces of wood, packed into life rafts or on beaches after swimming ashore, the state news agency Antara quoted a transport department official named Soeharto as saying.

At least 66 bodies also had been found, said Soeharto, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said at least 157 survivors had been found. It was not possible to explain the discrepancy, though Indonesian government agencies and officials often give differing death tolls during disasters because of poor communication and coordination.

A helicopter dropped food and water to a group of about 30 survivors in three rafts to keep them alive while boats attempted to reach them, Mr. Radjasa said.

“Pictures from the air showed they were all alive and waving for help,” he said.

Survivors recounted the horror of the ship’s last minutes, when the crew told passengers, many of them praying or screaming, to put on life vests. Shaking violently, the vessel veered to one side before being swamped by high waves.

“The wave was so high, and the ship’s crew told us not to panic,” Bekti Riwayati told Associated Press Television News. “But we were panicked and the ship went down. It took two hours to sink.”

Indonesia’s tropical waters are warm — ranging from 72 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit — and people have been known to survive for days at sea.

“I don’t want to speculate on how long people can survive floating on the sea, we only hope they can survive,” said Karolus Sangaji, a search and rescue worker.

Budi Susilo, who survived by grasping an overturned raft, said he saw three persons drown after losing their grip.

Four naval ships, police boats, commercial vessels and three helicopters have been combing the area where the ship last made radio contact with port authorities.

Officials said the car ferry, built in Japan in 1990, had a capacity of 850 passengers and had been in good condition. They said bad weather likely caused the accident.

The ship ran into trouble 24 miles off Mandalika island, about 190 miles northeast of the capital, Jakarta, while en route to Semarang in Central Java province.

Ferries are a main source of transportation in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of more than 17,500 islands with a population of 245 million. Accidents are common because of overcrowding and poorly enforced safety regulations.

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