About 80 people were still missing yesterday after a ferry sank in rough seas off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia.
The Indonesian Ministry of Transportation has confirmed three people, including two children, have been found dead, while 39 survivors have been pulled from the water, some after desperately clinging to fishing buoys for hours in the huge swell until help arrived.
Search-and-rescue teams still have not found the stricken vessel, which was ferrying 118 people around the island of Sulawesi when it sent out a distress signal late on Saturday afternoon, police told reporters.
The whereabouts of the remaining 76 people are also still unclear, with search-and-rescue teams hampered by rough conditions and waves up to 5m high as daylight hours dwindle.
When asked whether the boat had sunk, South Sulawesi police spokesman Frans Barung told reporters: “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
“The boat has not been found, because the weather has not been good,” he said, adding that the boat was constructed from fiberglass and was therefore difficult to sink.
Authorities lost contact with the ferry late yesterday afternoon, and it failed to arrive at its destination in Siwa across the Bay of Boni as scheduled.
Officials dismissed initial reports that the boat had sunk, instead claiming it was adrift, having lost engine power.
Police, national search-and-rescue teams and the Indonesian Navy have been scouring the seas for survivors ever since, but have been battling harsh elements.
Local search-and-rescue team leader Roki Asikin said powerful waves meant it took three hours to evacuate some survivors to shore.
“These waves were very high,” he said.
There had been warnings about extreme weather in the area in the days leading up to the accident, with strong winds and rough seas.
The Indonesian archipelago, composed of more than 17,000 islands, is heavily dependent on ferry services, but the industry has a poor safety record and fatal accidents are common.
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