Fri, 12 May 2000

Sunken ferry is not seaworthy: Official

AMBON, Maluku (JP): The Masnait ferry which was sank on Sunday killing at least 41 people, was not supposed to ply sea routes because it was designed to operate on lakes and rivers, an official said on Thursday.

Acting chief of the province's Ministry of Communications office Bob Halattu told a hearing with local legislators here that the ship was "in good condition" but was not strong enough to negotiate strong waves and winds in an open sea.

"Riots that rocked the islands around Ambon forced the ship to make a stopover in Gudang Arang Port to pick up passengers en route to Waipirit Port on Seram island via the Leihitu sea, which was not its original route," Bob said.

He added that the Masnait had replaced state vessels which were not operational during the riots, which have subsided in the past three months.

Bob said the vessel used to ply a shorter route between Hunimua on Ambon island to Waipirit on Seram island, which took less than an hour due to the steady and safe waters.

The boat was believed to be carrying at least 130 passengers when it sank in the Leihitu waters off Ambon between Tanjung Hutumuri and Tanjung Tial in Salahatu subdistrict. The manifest listed 62 passengers and 12 crew members.

A rescue team has so far recovered 41 bodies, while 85 people survived.

However, Bob refused to give details about the cause of the incident.

"The investigation is underway to check for technical problems. It is most likely that the ship was overloaded," he said.

Relatives of the ferry's passengers visited the gubernatorial office on Wednesday to demand that the provincial administration clarify the death toll.

"Dozens are reportedly still missing and we want to know what happened to them. We want details of the victims, the cause of the accident and the institutions responsible for this disaster," the group's spokesman Robert Rikimahu said.

Bob said the casualties listed on the manifest were all covered by insurance from the state company PT Jasa Rahardja.

"As for other passengers who were not listed, further arrangements will be set. The insurance company will cross-check the data with related institutions and relatives of the victims," he said. (48/49/edt)