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.


North Korea puts reunion of war separated families in doubt

A woman and a young child walk down a street together in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 7, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 9 min 9 sec ago
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North Korea puts reunion of war separated families in doubt

  • South Korea's current liberal President Moon Jae-in wants to expand ties with North Korea, but repatriating any of the women would be a delicate matter
  • There has been mounting speculation that some of the 12 North Korean women might have been truly duped into coming to South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea said that an August reunion of Korean families separated by war may not happen if South Korea doesn’t immediately return some of its citizens who arrived in the South in recent years.
The 2016 arrival of a group of 12 female employees from a North Korean-run restaurant in China has been a source of contention between the rival Koreas. North Korea has accused South Korea of kidnapping them, while South Korea says they decided to resettle on their own will.
North Korea has often used the women as a reason to rebuff South Korea’s repeated request to allow elderly citizens split during the 1950-53 Korean War to reunite with each other briefly. But Friday’s statement is the North’s first attempt to link the fate of the women to the August reunion and comes amid worries that a global diplomacy to push the North to give up its nuclear weapons is making little headway after a detente of the past several months.
The North’s state-run Uriminzokkiri website said that the reunion and overall inter-Korean ties will face “obstacles” if Seoul doesn’t send back the women.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it has no comment on the Uriminzokkiri dispatch.
There has been mounting speculation that some of the 12 North Korean women might have been truly duped into coming to South Korea.
After meeting some of the women earlier this month, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ independent investigator on human rights in North Korea, told reporters in Seoul that they told him they did not know they were heading to South Korea when they departed China.
“Some of them, they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing that they were coming here,” Quintana said, referring to South Korea by its formal name. “If they were taken against their will, that may (be) considered a crime. It is the duty and responsibility of the government of the Republic of Korea to investigate.”
South Korean media had earlier carried a similar report, citing interviews with some of the women and their North Korean male manager who came to South Korea with them.
The women’s arrival happened when South Korea was governed by a conservative government, which took a tough stance on the North’s nuclear program. South Korea’s current liberal President Moon Jae-in wants to expand ties with North Korea, but repatriating any of the women would be a delicate matter, with many experts saying relatives of those who decide to stay in the South will certainly face reprisals by the North Korean government.