Indonesia questions captain of sunken ferry, widens search for victims

Rescuers search for missing passengers from Monday's ferry accident at Lake Toba at Tigaras port in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia. (REUTERS)
Updated 21 June 2018
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Indonesia questions captain of sunken ferry, widens search for victims

  • The Southeast Asian nation frequently suffers boat sinkings, with basic safety rules often flouted and vessels overloaded
  • Authorities were waiting for more sophisticated navy equipment that can plumb depths of as much as 450 meters

TIGARAS, Indonesia: Indonesian police on Thursday questioned the captain of a ferry that sank without trace in a volcanic lake in Sumatra this week, warning that a criminal investigation could be launched over a disaster that has left at least 192 people missing.
Desperate relatives awaiting news of loved ones prayed and sang hymns at the port on Lake Toba after one of Indonesia’s worst ferry disasters in years left four confirmed dead and 18 survivors, including the captain.
“We see there’s a possibility to begin a criminal investigation because of negligence that resulted in people losing their lives,” national police chief Tito Karnavian said during a visit to the base of rescue operations at the lake, one of the world’s deepest.
“The captain may be named a suspect,” Karnavian said, adding that regional transport officials would also be questioned about supervision.
Authorities were trying to get clearer information from the captain and survivors on where the vessel went down.
“(The captain’s) health remains unstable. We asked him some questions, but he has yet to remember clearly,” police official Agus Darojat told Metro TV.
Teams of divers resumed a search for the wooden ferry, which may have had aboard nearly five times the number of passengers it was supposed to carry when it went down in bad weather on Monday.
“We’ve expanded (the search area) from 6 km to 10 km,” Budiawan, an official of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, told reporters. That is equivalent to a range of 3.7 miles to 6.21 miles.
Authorities were waiting for more sophisticated navy equipment that can plumb depths of as much as 450 meters (1,500 feet) in some places, he added.
The picturesque lake fills the caldera of a giant ancient volcano that erupted about 75,000 years ago in one of history’s biggest eruptions.
On the quay, hundreds of people sang hymns, some in the regional Batak language, in an area of predominantly Muslim Indonesia that is home to a large Christian community.
Waiting at the quayside for news of the family of her 20-year-old daughter who took the ill-fated ferry, one distraught mother criticized the disorganized nature of the initial rescue effort.
“Just looking at the videos of them throwing lifesavers, it looked haphazard,” the woman, Turia, said on Wednesday, describing attempts by nearby ships to help survivors.
The mobile telephone of Turia’s daughter, who was accompanied on board by her husband and the couple’s 2-1/2-year-old daughter, has not been active since Tuesday, Turia added.
The Southeast Asian nation frequently suffers boat sinkings, with basic safety rules often flouted and vessels overloaded.
Last week, 13 died after a boat carrying about 43 people sank off Makassar on Sulawesi island, while a speedboat carrying 30 passengers sank off South Sumatra, killing at least two.
In Lake Toba, there has also been a string of previous accidents, including a 1997 sinking that killed about 80 people.
President Joko Widodo said the government would push to prevent future boat accidents.
“I ask that this kind of case will not happen again and I have asked the transport minister to evaluate all safety standards for ferry transport,” he said in a statement late on Wednesday.


Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

Updated 13 November 2018
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Beijing dismisses ‘hearsay’ on Muslim internment

  • Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that belong in the minority
  • Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism

BEIJING: China defended its internment of Muslims in the country’s northwest as a terror prevention measure on Tuesday, calling on the international community to reject “hearsay” and believe its official line.
Up to a million Uighurs and other Chinese Turkic-speaking minority groups have been placed in political re-education camps in the Xinjiang region, according to a group of experts cited by the United Nations.
After originally denying the existence of the centers, Beijing has repeatedly described the camps as vocational “training centers” that were built to help people drawn to extremism to stay away from terrorism and allow them to be reintegrated into society.
But the program has faced rising criticism outside the country — notably from the United States and human rights groups.
“We hope our journalist friends and our other foreign friends will take into consideration the information and briefings on the situation given by the Chinese authorities,” said China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“Rumours and hearsay should not be believed,” he said standing next to his German counterpart Heiko Maas at a press conference.
“It’s quite clear that the government in Xinjiang knows best what is happening in Xinjiang — not other people and third party organizations.”
Critics say China is seeking to assimilate Xinjiang’s minority population and suppress religious and cultural practices that conflict with Communist ideology and the dominant Han culture.
Former inmates of the camps say they were detained for having long beards or wearing the veil.
Attacks attributed to Uighurs have left hundreds dead over the last few years in China, many of them in Xinjiang, where Beijing says its concerned about a rise in Islamic radicalism.
The authorities have put in place intrusive measures of security — ubiquitous surveillance cameras, DNA sampling, home visits by officials and GPS trackers in cars.
“We call that a combination of repression and prevention. But we place the priority on prevention. If it’s done well, terrorism won’t expand and take root. It’s the most effective way to combat terrorism,” Wang Yi said.
The German foreign minister did not mention the Xinjiang region at the press conference, but did say he had “spoken on the question of human rights” during his closed meeting with his Chinese counterpart.
A debate on the situation in Xinjiang was held in the German parliament last Thursday.
China’s ambassador to Berlin expressed Beijing’s “profound discontent” and put in an official protest following the “blatant interference” in its “domestic affairs.”