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

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.


Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

Updated 44 min 50 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters sing ‘God Save the Queen’ in plea to former colonial power

  • The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests
  • Demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy

HONG KONG: Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters singing “God Save the Queen” and waving Union Jack flags rallied outside the British Consulate on Sunday demanding that the former colonial power ensures China honors its commitments to the city’s freedoms.
The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by weeks of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests, with demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, lays out Hong Kong’s future after its return to China in 1997, a “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one placard read. “SOS Hong Kong,” read another.
“One country, two systems is dead,” they shouted in English under the sub-tropical sun, some carrying the colonial flag also bearing the Union Jack. “Free Hong Kong.”
With many young people looking for routes out of Hong Kong, campaigners say Britain should change the status of the British National (Overseas) passport, a category created after Britain returned Hong Kong to China. The passports allow a holder to visit Britain for six months, but do not come with an automatic right to live or work there.
“I am here to demand the UK protect our citizens’ rights in Hong Kong and speak up for Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration,” Jacky Tsang, 25, told Reuters.
The spark for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary.
The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement, denies meddling and says the city is an internal Chinese issue. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 declaration.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.
“As a co-signatory, the UK government will continue to defend our position.”
But it was not immediately clear what Britain could or would want to do defend that position. It is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of next month.
The Civil Human Rights Front has also called for a mass rally in Victoria Park, just to the east of the central business district, but police have denied permission because of earlier clashes after huge gatherings.
Protesters are expected to turn up early in the afternoon anyway.