Published: Fri, June 22, 2018

Indonesia lists 180 missing on doomed ferry, launches underwater search

Indonesia lists 180 missing on doomed ferry, launches underwater search

Indonesia's search and rescue agency has revised up the number of passengers missing after a ferry sank in Lake Toba on Sumatra island this week to 180 from around 60 estimated on Tuesday, an official from the agency said on Wednesday.

The transport minister said investigators would check whether the doomed boat had been equipped with life jackets and whether they had been used.

"When the boat started to list I jumped into the water and swam as far away as I could", Wibowo said, adding most of those who survived were outside of the main cabin in the front deck.

The wooden vessel, overcrowded with passengers as well as dozens of motorbikes, didn't have a manifest, and disaster officials have several times raised the number of people it was carrying as family members who rushed to Lake Toba in northern Sumatra provided information.

Hundreds of rescue workers, including military and police officials, were helping with the search.

Rescuers searching for dozens of people missing after a ferry sank on Indonesia's Lake Toba have found bags, jackets, an ID card and other items in the waters but no new survivors, casting a tragic pall over holidays marking the end of the Muslim holy month.

Sobbing mother Suwarni pleaded for news of her son and his fiancé, both believed to have been on board.

Police said in a statement Wednesday there were as many as 178 people missing, which if confirmed would make it one of Indonesia's worst maritime disasters.

One woman, Suwarni, whose 20-year-old son and his girlfriend were on the ferry, slammed the search and rescue operation as slow and insufficient. "Please bring back my son". Or, due to the bad weather at the time, they may have been reluctant to leave the ferry by jumping in the 1,145 square kilometres-sized lake.

The first team of divers encountered poor visibility and freezing cold when it got to a depth of 50 metres (164 ft), said Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency.

Lake Toba, which fills the crater of a giant volcano that erupted tens of thousands of years ago, is a popular and picturesque destination for tourists.

"We believe there was a waterspout that generated strong winds and waves that destabilised the boat and caused a panic", he told reporters.

His brother Bagas Prama Ananta, is among the missing passengers.

The popularity of Lake Toba is such that the Indonesian government has taken special care to try to introduce sustainable tourism measures out of fear that the high level of visitors may be destroying its natural majesty.

Enforcement of safety standards also tends to be weak, underscoring Indonesia's woeful boat safety record.

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