Saturday, May 19, 2007

Death toll rises as charred ferry sinks

Monday, February 26, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A television cameraman died and three other people remain missing after the charred ferryboat Levina I sank Sunday while investigators and journalists were on board.

The incident occurred around noon when investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Police's forensic laboratory and the Water Police were going over the vessel, which caught fire Thursday.

Twelve TV reporters and cameramen from Indosiar, Metro TV, ANTV, Lativi, RCTI and SCTV were accompanying the investigators.

Lativi cameraman Suherman, 33, died when the ferry sank. As of Sunday night, SCTV's Muhammad Guntur and forensic officers Adj. Sr. Comr. Widodo and Comr. Widiantoro remain missing.

Officials originally planed to tow the vessel to Tanjung Priok Port before boarding it for the investigation. However, for reasons that remain unclear they decided to enter the wreckage before it was towed, some seven mile from port.

An Elshinta radio reporter, Mardianto, who was on the wreckage, said the accident happened so fast the people on board barely had time to save themselves.

The ship was already listing when journalists were allowed to board the ferry by investigators.

"Driven by curiosity, we entered the ship though some officers warned us that it was not safe," Mardianto told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

The officers offered the journalists life jackets but few accepted.

"I am not in a position to blame anyone because I myself was guilty of not taking proper precautions," Mardianto said.

He said after boarding, the journalists went to deck three where they interviewed the head of the city's Water Police, Adj. Sr. Comr. Frederik Kalembang.

An officer from the forensic laboratory suddenly said it felt like the ship was listing.

Seconds later, police officers on a nearby boat used a loudspeaker to order everyone on board the ferry to evacuate.

"People on the ferry panicked and raced down to deck two where they crowded into a window at the end of the deck to get out to the side of the ship," Mardianto said

Mardianto was able to get out of the ferry and swim to the nearest lifeboat. He said the boat was meant for only six people and nearly capsized because it was overloaded.

Setyo Raharjo, the head of the transportation safety body, said all of his officers on the ferry were wearing life jackets as instructed. "They were told by the police to wear the jackets so all of my officers were wearing them," he told the Post.

A search and rescue official in Jakarta, Dadang Arkum, said it was unlikely the three missing people would be found alive. "We are hoping for the best, but in reality if people go under the water and do not come back up within five minutes, they are most likely dead."

Meanwhile, the search and rescue team said earlier Sunday that 22 bodies from the original ferry fire had been recovered by two naval vessels, the KRI Cobra and KAL Legian. The bodies were spotted near Kelapa island, bringing the death toll from Thursday's fire to 42. (02)

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