Saturday, May 19, 2007

Death toll reaches 20 in ferry inferno

Sunday, February 25, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A search-and-rescue team recovered Saturday the bodies of four more passengers from the ferry Levina 1, which caught fire Thursday, bringing the death toll in the disaster to 20.

Navy ship KRI Paulau Raibu brought ashore the bodies of Agus, bin Padja, 40, a resident of Sukabumi, West Java, and Ahmad Fauzi, 43, a resident of Banyumas, Central Java, while the other two deceased have yet to be identified.

Their bodies were found some 35 miles out to sea from Tanjung Priok Port, North Jakarta.

The four were among more than 300 people on board the 27-year-old ferry that burst into flames shortly after setting out from Tanjung Priok Port for Pangkal Balam Port on Bangka Island, near South Sumatra, early Thursday.

An official from the rescue team, Panji Nirwana, said both men had sustained severe burns.

The Transportation Ministry said that as of Saturday 15 people were still missing, although a source at the Indonesian Red Cross who asked for anonymity said that at least 89 people were still missing.

Ocean Safety Board head investigator Comr. Ramses Kamsudin said that an investigation into the accident had been launched.

A preliminary probe has indicated that negligence on the part of the boat's operator caused the fire.

Investigators are still questioning the captain of the Levina 1, Andi Kurniawan, although the owner of the vessel, PT Praga Jaya Sentosa, has yet to be summoned.

Transportation Minister Hatta Radjasa has ordered the Directorate of Sea Transportation to revoke the license of the company due to the difference between the total on the ship's official passenger manifest, 275, and the number of people who were on the ship when it sank, believed to be more than 300.

The directorate also suspended Tanjung Priok harbormaster J. Karelantang on Friday over his inability to account for the ambiguous passenger numbers.

The preliminary investigation has also found that the boat's documents were not inspected before it set sail.

The remains of the ferry were towed into Tanjung Priok on Saturday evening, after being salvaged by the TB Jayakarta III from about 40 miles to the northeast of the port.

Anxious families and friends waited at the port, saying they were "confused" by the promises made by the ship's operator to take care of their daily needs while the search-and-rescue operation was under way.

Saidi, a toy seller from Cirebon, West Java, said he had spent two nights at the port without knowing who was responsible for the fate of his missing son, Junaedy, and nephew, Makrus.

"Since I arrived there has been no explanation at all from the authorities on what is best to do. I don't know how long we are going to have to wait like this," said Saidi, who also regularly travels to Bangka Island.

Saidi said that he had heard from other families that the boat's owner was giving money to survivors but that he didn't know how much was being provided or how to claim it.

"They gave the money quietly to some people, but what about us?" he said.

A group of 14 people from Bulakamba, Brebes, in Central Java, said they were looking for people from their village who had been passengers on the ship.

"We are confused about who is responsible for us. We came here because our relatives are missing in the accident and we heard that the ferry company would take care of lodging and other needs. Don't treat us like country bumpkins," said Sobirin, a member of the Bulakamba group.(02)

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