Page last updated at 05:21 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Indonesian ferry sinks in storm

map of indonesia

A search operation is under way after a ferry carrying about 250 passengers and 17 crew sank in stormy seas off central Indonesia, officials say.

A transport agency spokesman said 18 people have been rescued alive, but fears are rising that scores of others will be found dead.

High seas are hampering intensified rescue efforts by navy and air force.

Recent years have seen several ferry accidents in Indonesia. More than 400 people died when a ferry sank in 2006.

The captain of the Teratai Prima, who was among those pulled alive from the sea, said that about 150 people managed to jump off before the vessel went down, the Associated Press reported.

A few survivors are said to have been spotted by fishermen as they drifted on lifeboats, but it is not yet known how many are still missing, the BBC's Lucy Williamson reports from Jakarta.

She says familiar questions are now being raised, such as whether the ferry was seaworthy, if there were enough lifeboats on board and whether enough consideration had been given to the rough conditions

With relatives wait on shore as a trickle of survivors are brought in by fishermen, those questions are likely to get louder, our correspondent adds.

Deadly crossing

The ferry was making an overnight journey from Pare Pare in South Sulawesi to Samarinda in East Kalimantan.


Local tv footage of survivors

Indonesia's state-run Antara news agency said the vessel went down at 0400 local time (2100 GMT Saturday) in stormy seas.

The area has been buffeted by storms, heavy rains and high winds for several days, causing flash flooding in some areas.

11 July 2007: Passenger ship with 70 on board sinks off eastern Indonesia
22 Feb 2007: At least 42 die as ferry catches fire
30 Dec 2006: More than 400 lost as ferry sinks between Borneo and Java
7 July 2005: About 200 die as ferry sinks off eastern Indonesia
Indonesia relies heavily on ferry services to connect the main islands in the archipelago, but accidents are common.

In December 2006, a ferry carrying more than 600 people sank while on a journey from Borneo to Java. The majority of its passengers were never found.

Months later, at least 42 people were killed when a fire broke out aboard a ferry from Jakarta to Bangka island off Sumatra.

There have also been several accidents involving Indonesia's domestic airlines, prompting the European Union to ban Indonesian carriers from its airspace.

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