The captain and crew sailing the Sabuk Nusantara ferry to new owners on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi got the task done and then some.
The hulking red and yellow ship on Friday last week was bounced like a basketball as a massive earthquake rocked the region and it landed in front of a row of houses in the village of Wani, dumped by tsunami waves that the crew say were at least 15m tall.
A week after the 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami hit central Sulawesi, the captain and 20 crew remain on board, waiting for an assessment team to arrive and decide if the ship can be put back to sea.
In interviews on the bridge, captain Edy Junaidi, second-in-command Jona Johanes and petty officer Imat recounted minutes of chaos and sheer panic as at least 10 other vessels twisted and collided and the rapidly retreating tide sucked the ship away from the pier.
“It was just sudden,” Johanes said. “We felt the ship was like a basketball being bounced.”
The ferry was docked outside Wani, because the state-owned company that owns it was delivering it to a new owner.
The crew’s accounts exceed the highest estimates of disaster officials, who said the wave could have been about 6m based on a man who survived by climbing a tree.
Johanes was in his cabin turning on the TV when the quake hit. By the time he reached the deck, a huge wave was approaching and the pier had collapsed.
In the preceding one to two minutes, the panicked crew donned lifejackets and released all of the ship’s mooring lines except one — the head line at the front of the ship — which was stretched incredibly tight as the tide rushed out, forcing Imat to let it go.
“There is no doubt as a human being of course I’m panicking, but we have to realize that this is a natural phenomenon,” Imat said.
To the crew, the sudden drop in water level was bewildering and it seemed like the Earth was rising.
“I saw the ground getting higher and higher. It was so high. Then I saw the pier had collapsed. It was chaotic. I could see a wave, a dark high wave. I cannot imagine that,” Imat said.
Johanes braced for a collision with the broken pier.
“I was holding on. I thought we were going to be thrown when we hit the pier. Then I just realized we weren’t thrown. We were flying,” he said.
At first the crew did not realize they had been dropped on land, because the ship remained surrounded by water after being lifted and pushed forward by the surging sea.
In retrospect, it was a “smooth” landing and the ship appeared completely undamaged, Imat said.
They cracked dark jokes about their experience and seemed content to wait on a vessel that has none of the deprivations of the nearby villages.
“We can go down from the ship, but where can we go? There’s no market around. The shops are still closed,” Johanes said.
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