Page last updated at 05:03 GMT, Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Hopes dim in Indonesia sea search


A passenger adrift in the ocean is hauled to safety

An air and sea search for survivors from a ferry that sank off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi is continuing, despite heavy weather.

At least 34 people, including the ship's captain, have now been rescued but more than 200 are still missing.

The ferry sank on Sunday, crossing the Makassar Strait towards Kalimantan.

The transport minister has said an investigation was underway into whether the captain had clearance to leave port despite warnings about the bad weather.

With 34 people found alive, and one body, it is thought that 232 people are still missing and feared dead.

Little hope remains that more survivors will be found more than 48 hours after the ship sank in stormy weather.

Stormy weather

High winds, rough seas and driving rain continued to pound the Makassar Strait between Sulawesi and Borneo where the 700-tonne Teratai Prima capsized and sank with about 267 people on board.

Officials said some smaller vessels had been told to give up the search, with four navy warships and two patrol boats continuing the search for survivors.

"We are facing very bad weather and rough seas. We don't want to take any risks by sending small boats," transport ministry maritime official Sunaryo told AFP news agency.

Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal said he was not optimistic of finding more survivors.

"It seems that due to the weather conditions the chance is little, but we still hope," he said.

'Swim in the dark'

The Teratai Prima ferry was making an overnight journey from Pare Pare in South Sulawesi to Samarinda in East Kalimantan when it sank just before dawn on Sunday.

Desperate relatives wait for news

Survivors said high waves flipped the ferry over. Most passengers were asleep and had little time to react.

"I felt that the ferry was listing to the left, then suddenly it turned upside down," said 29-year-old Yulianus Mangande, who was picked up by fishermen.

"I had to swim in the dark in heavy seas until the morning."

One survivor said he had scrambled into a life raft after clinging to a piece of wood.

"I grabbed my son on my back and swam to a piece of wood, but my son disappeared after being hit by a big wave," said Daeng Gassing, whose father-in-law was also missing.

Eighteen passengers and four crew members had been found alive so far, the transport minister said.

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

About 250 passengers and 17 crew were thought to be on board the Teratai Prima - but tickets are frequently oversold for ferries in Indonesia.

Recent years have seen several ferry accidents in Indonesia.

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.

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