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.


Blasts heard in Maiduguri, northeast of Nigeria, before polls open

Updated 23 February 2019
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Blasts heard in Maiduguri, northeast of Nigeria, before polls open

  • The city is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamists
  • Boko Haram has warned it will disrupt the elections

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: A series of explosions was heard in the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Saturday, shortly before the opening of polls in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Multiple blasts were heard at about 6A.M. (0500 GMT), locals said. There was no immediate indication of the cause.

But the city is the birthplace of Boko Haram Islamists and has been repeatedly attacked during their nearly 10-year insurgency that has devastated the remote region.

Polls open at 0700 GMT, with President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general who has vowed to defeat the jihadists, seeking a second term.

Boko Haram has warned it will disrupt the elections.

One resident in the Gomari neighborhood of Maiduguri said: “I heard several explosions coming from the Bulumkutu area this morning but it’s unclear what is happening.

“There have been suspicions that it was an attack by Boko Haram but we don’t know yet.”

He added: “Late yesterday (Friday), some gunmen went into the house of a man in Gomari and shot him dead. We still don’t know the motive.”

Two other residents gave a similar account.

The early morning explosions in Maiduguri come after a Boko Haram attack late on Friday on Zabarmari village, some 10 kilometers outside Maiduguri.

The attack forced residents to flee into the city.