Number missing in Indonesia ferry disaster jumps to nearly 180

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A rescue team prepares to search for missing passengers at the Lake Toba ferry port in the province of North Sumatra on Wednesday, June 20. (AFP)
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The wooden tourist ferry sank in rough weather on Lake Toba on Sumatra island on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Number missing in Indonesia ferry disaster jumps to nearly 180

  • The traditional wooden boat which sank Monday on Sumatra’s Lake Toba, a popular tourist destination, was thought to be operating illegally with no manifest or passenger tickets
  • Lake Toba, popular with international and domestic tourists, fills the crater of a supervolcano that erupted tens of thousands of years ago

SIMALUNGUN, Indonesia: Nearly 180 passengers are missing after a ferry sank into the depths of a volcanic lake in Indonesia, police said Wednesday, almost tripling initial estimates.

But the search-and-rescue agency cautioned it was still unclear how many people were aboard the vessel when it capsized.

The traditional wooden boat which sank Monday on Sumatra’s Lake Toba, a popular tourist destination, was thought to be operating illegally with no manifest or passenger tickets.

The situation has sparked confusion — and different estimates from various agencies — about the number of passengers on the overcrowded boat.

Indonesia’s disaster agency originally said some 80 people along with dozens of motorcycles were on the vessel when it overturned and sank.

It had a 43-passenger capacity, according to the transport ministry.

On Wednesday police said there were as many as 178 people missing, which if confirmed would make it one of Indonesia’s worst maritime disasters.

Authorities have been relying on families who have reported that missing relatives may have been on the doomed vessel.

“Many people got on the boat without a ticket so it’s unclear how many were on board,” Muhammad Syaugi, the head of the search and rescue agency, AFP.

Later at a press conference, Syaugi added: “There are many people who have reported their relatives missing, but whether they were on the boat or not we don’t know.”

So far, four bodies have been found and another 18 people rescued, according to the local disaster agency, as the search turned to recovering the bodies of victims — including those still trapped inside the sunken boat.

“We’ll be here until they find my brother’s body,” said Nurhayati, among hundreds of grief-stricken people waiting by the shore for updates.

“We just want to see his body and take him with us.”

A sobbing Suwarni pleaded for news of her son and his fiance, both believed to have been on board.

“Why are the rescue teams so slow?” said the 55-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

“I’m so disappointed — there’s no progress here. Please bring back my son.”

Authorities have deployed divers and underwater vehicles, along with about 400 personnel, to search the enormous lake in an operation expected to last at least a week.

Lake Toba, popular with international and domestic tourists, fills the crater of a supervolcano that erupted tens of thousands of years ago.

It is one of the world’s deepest lakes and extends some 1,145 square kilometers (440 square miles).

“We are looking to search as deep as 400 meters but we haven’t found anything yet because the area is very large,” said the rescue agency’s Syaugi.

Images from the scene Wednesday showed rescuers covering up the bloated body of a woman who had washed ashore.

It was not clear if any foreigners were on board the ferry or what caused the disaster.

Survivor accounts said the boat began shaking as it struggled to navigate strong winds and high waves about halfway into the 40-minute trip from an island in the middle of the lake to shore.

Muslim-majority Indonesia has been celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid since Friday and millions go on holiday during the festivities, with Lake Toba a key destination.

The deadly disaster came just days after more than a dozen people were killed in an unrelated maritime accident that underscored Indonesia’s woeful boat safety record.

Traditional boats — like the one in the Lake Toba disaster — are rarely equipped with enough life preservers and their condition can be dire.

Enforcement of safety standards also tends to be weak.

In 2015 a ferry sank off the coast of the island of Sulawesi, leaving 78 dead or missing.

More than 300 people are estimated to have drowned in 2009 when a ferry sank between Sulawesi and Borneo.


Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

Updated 23 September 2018
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Britain’s opposition Labour backs new election over Brexit impasse

  • Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a ‘People’s Vote,’ or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU
  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as ‘for the birds’
LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party prefers a new election to a second referendum on Brexit, its leader said on Sunday, heaping pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May whose plans for a deal with the EU have hit an impasse.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has so far resisted calls to back a “People’s Vote,” or new referendum on the decision to quit the EU.
But the political landscape has changed since May was ambushed by the European Union on Thursday over her plans for Brexit — the biggest shift in British policy for more than four decades.
With talk of a new election swirling after May’s “Chequers” plan was all but shredded at an EU summit in Austria last week and chances of Britain exiting the bloc without a deal rising, Labour is under pressure to start setting the Brexit agenda.
Corbyn, a veteran euroskeptic who in 1975 voted “No” to Britain’s membership of the then-European Community, said that while he would listen to a debate about any possible second vote on Britain’s membership, he preferred a snap election if May failed to get a deal that Labour could support in parliament.
“Our preference would be for a general election and we can then negotiate our future relationship with Europe but let’s see what comes out of conference,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, saying Labour was ready to vote against any deal.
“We would vote it down if it didn’t meet our tests in order to send the government, if it is still in office, straight back to the negotiating table and if there is a general election and we are in office we would go straight to the negotiating table.”
Corbyn’s close ally, Len McCluskey, leader of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, told the BBC any such second referendum “shouldn’t be on: ‘do we want to go back into the European Union?’” as that had been answered in the 2016 referendum.
Britain is to exit the EU in March. After weeks of both sides making positive noises about prospects of clinching a divorce deal and their future trading relationship, the mood turned sour on Thursday in Salzburg, Austria, when the bloc’s leaders, one by one, came out to criticize May’s Chequers plans.
A tacit agreement to try to offer her some support before she heads to what is going to be a difficult annual conference of her governing Conservative Party later this month was broken by some British diplomatic missteps.
May says she will hold her nerve in the talks, pressing the EU to come up with an alternative proposal to her Chequers plan, named after the prime minister’s country residence where a deal was hashed out with her top ministers in July.
But the impasse with the EU has prompted some to predict an early election, with local media reporting that May’s team has begun contingency planning for a snap vote in November to save both Brexit and her job.
Brexit minister Dominic Raab again ruled out a new election, describing the suggestion as “for the birds.” He said Britain would not “flit from plan to plan like some sort of diplomatic butterfly.”
“We are going to be resolute about this,” Raab added.
While saying she will stick to her guns, May might have little chance but to change tack after a party conference where the deep divisions over Europe that have riven her Conservatives for decades will be in plain sight.
A senior pro-EU Conservative lawmaker, Nicky Morgan, said May would have to give ground on trade and customs arrangements to overcome the biggest obstacle to a withdrawal accord — the prevention of a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.
“I am not sure there is life left in Chequers,” Morgan, chair of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee and a former cabinet minister under May’s predecessor, told Sky News.
“We want to see a deal. The question I think that has to be answered now by the government, by the EU leaders, is what room for movement is there, how do we move on from where we ended up last week?”