Saturday, May 19, 2007

Investigators to carry on query despite sinking evidence

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

National Transportation Safety Board (KNKT) investigators are still searching for the cause of the fire that broke out on the Levina I ferry last week, although the ship sunk Sunday.

"Even though evidence has sunk into the water with the ship, it will not stop our team of investigators looking for the cause of the accident," board head Setio Raharjo said Monday.

The charred remains of the Levina I sank while investigators and journalists were on board. A Lativi television station cameraman, 33-year-old Suherman, died in the incident, while as of Monday night SCTV reporter Muhammad Guntur and forensic officers Adj. Sr. Comr. Widodo and Comr. Widiantoro remained missing.

"We can obtain other sources of evidence, such as the boat's manifest and documents and statements from the crew members and passengers," Setio said.

Investigators' digital cameras were also rescued during the sinking of the boat.

The fire, which broke out as the boat was heading to Bangka Island, is believed to have been started by chemicals carried by trucks loaded on the ship.

Crew members told investigators that the fire from the tarpaulin-covered truck grew bigger when they tried to extinguish it with water.

The boat had more than 300 passengers on it.

A source from the ticketing agency close to the truck drivers from Bangka said Monday that one of the drivers had loaded a truck with cases of premix gasoline.

"The price of premix is very expensive in Bangka and it's very rare, while there are a lot of luxury cars there that need premix for fuel," the source told The Jakarta Post.

Commenting on the deaths caused by the ship's sinking, Setio said that the KNKT had never invited reporters to board the charred vessel. "They came of their own will, by themselves."

A survivor of the sinking, Elshinta radio reporter Mardiyanto, said the search and rescue team had told them not to board the wreckage, but when they arrived at the site where the wreckage was anchored and sailed around it, they saw a reporter already on board.

The group of journalists, most of whom were from TV stations, followed suit. Only a few wore life jackets.

On Monday, the search and rescue team found eight more bodies from the fire, bringing the death toll to 51.

One of the bodies, brought ashore by Navy ship KRI Kobra, was thought to be that of forensic laboratory officer Col. Widiantoro, but this was quickly ruled out due to the corpse's state of decomposition and the body was listed as a John Doe.

The other seven bodies brought ashore at around 7:35 p.m. were found six to 10 miles from where the Levina I caught fire.

The search team also found camera belonging to Lativi and RCTI, as well as a microphone belonging to Lativi.

The commander of the joint team for the Levina I search mission, Col. Didin Zainal Abidin, said that they would continue the search on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people attended the burial of Lativi cameramen Suherman at Budi Darma graveyard in Cilincing, North Jakarta, including his fiancee, Novianti.

His colleague Ricky Firmansyah remembered him as a diligent worker, who showed up early and left work late.

"He had asked me to be the cameramen for his wedding later this year," he said. (02)

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