Relatives Angry at Ferry Search Efforts

MAJENE ~ Relatives of some 230 people listed as missing three days after a ferry sank without trace in the Makassar Strait angrily demanded on Wednesday that the government step up search efforts.

Only 35 survivors and two bodies have been found in the treacherous strait off western Sulawesi since the ferry went down early Sunday, and authorities admit there is little chance more of the missing people will be found alive.

But relatives waiting anxiously for news at search coordination centres on Sulawesi island refused to give up hope and complained that the government was not doing enough to find their loved ones.

About 50 people protested at the crisis centre in Majene, one of the closest towns to the spot where the 700-tonne Teratai Prima capsized and sank with 267 people on board after being hit by a tropical storm.

“The rescuers are just sitting around wasting times and money,” said Abet, who had 63 relatives and neighbors from one village listed as missing.

“They blamed bad weather for stopping the search yesterday, but how come fishermen still managed to find survivors? Why didn’t the rescue teams find any?”

Some of the protesters had pooled funds to hire three fishing boats to launch their own search.

“Why doesn’t the government just give fishermen money to rent boats and do the search themselves. It would be more effective,” Abet said.

Zeth Parante, whose wife and 10-month-old baby are missing, said: “I’m becoming very worried and fearful that my loved ones won’t be found alive. This is the fourth day. They must be very hungry, exhausted and cold out at sea.”

The navy and air force have been helping local rescue teams look for survivors since Sunday but their operations have been hampered by heavy rain and high seas.

Many of the survivors rescued so far have been found by fishermen and passing cargo ships.

Transport ministry official Sunaryo said more warships and helicopters had been deployed on Wednesday but with so few bodies found it appeared most of the missing passengers and crew were trapped in the sunken ship.

“My theory is that the ferry’s passengers are trapped inside the wreckage under the sea,” he said.

“The ferry sank in the middle of the night while passengers were asleep, and it sank very fast making it impossible for them to flee.”

He said a navy warship was searching for the wreck of the ferry on the seabed at a depth of about 1,800 metres (6,000 feet).

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