A 10-month-old baby was among those aboard a boat that sank off Komodo island in the middle of a stormy night, forcing terror-filled guests and crew to swim to safety.
No one was injured in the March 28 incident involving 17 tourists — American, Argentinean, British, Canadian, Danish, Dutch and Swiss — and eight crew aboard a vessel owned and operated by the Bali-based Perama tour company.
BC, a Hungarian who requested her name not be used, was one of those on board. She told The Bali Times that everyone jumped into high seas as the craft was going down.
“Our boat ran into rocks in rough weather at 2am and got stuck. When it started flipping over we had to jump into the waves in heavy rain and swim ashore. We climbed over some slippery rocks to inside a protected bay where we were picked up by the dinghy of a liveaboard diveboat, Moana.
“I went into shock for hours. People were holding me and trying to keep me awake … some of the others went into shock later.”
American travel writer Kate McCulley, 26, was a guest of Perama on the doomed craft. She said it had been raining hard on Sunday night and two-meter swells were making many passengers seasick, including herself.
She told The Bali Times: “I woke up to a loud scraping noise. A few minutes later crew members ran onto the deck, where most of us were sleeping, turned on the light, and said: “Everybody, put your lifejackets on.”
However the life-preservers were not functional.
“Most of the lifejackets could not be used. They were knotted, tied together and stuck underneath a mesh cloth that was difficult to open. It took me several minutes before I could even pull one life jacket out.”
After the crew steered the stricken boat near a small island off Komodo, famous for its man-eating dragons, it was discovered that the vessel’s lifeboat was also not operational, McCulley said.
“I prepared to get into the lifeboat, getting my bag with my computer ready. Then we were told by the crew that the lifeboat could not be used, so we had to jump into the water. I left my computer and other valuables on the boat.
“At this point, the starboard side of the boat was sinking. We gathered around the port side at the bow and jumped off, one by one, and swam to land. We were quite close to land, about 20 meters or so. The land was all rocks, so we had to climb them. After everybody was on land, the crew instructed us to climb along the rocks, moving further down the island. We climbed for approximately 30 minutes, at which point a speedboat showed up.”
Danish nationals Anne Katrine Kurtzhals and her friend Catherine were just starting out on a two-month visit to Indonesia when the incident happened. Anne Katrine recalls the fateful night: “We woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a scream and to the boat that hit rocks; the inside of my stomack flipped. At this time I wasn’t sure whether we where in the middle of the sea or near land, so I expected the worst and I was quite sure we wouldn’t make it.”
She said there was little assistance from the crew as the boat was sinking.
“The crew members were not that good in telling us passengers what to do. But eventually we gathered — I had a lifejacket; I heard some of the others had problems with theirs — on the deck and one by one we jumped into the sea and climbed the rocks. Only one member of the staff — Garry, 19 years old — stood ready to guide us. He didn’t know exactly what to tell us but he tried and now I am very grateful to this one young man.”
Both women flew to Denpasar and although their passports had been lost, the crew managed to find them.
After their dramatic rescue, the tourists spent the rest of the night on board the Moana diveboat before the harbour master at the port of Labuanbajo on the neighbouring island of Flores arrived at 9.45am on Monday with a rescue craft.
Perama is well-known locally for its low-fare bus routes, and was running a Hunting Komodo by Camera tour that departed Bali last Saturday. Perama’s manager, Diana Perama Aryati, declined requests from The Bali Times to comment on the incident.
McCulley said, however, that the company refunded their guests the cost of the trip and paid for two nights’ accommodation at Labuanbajo, including two meals, but refused to pay for flights to Bali or for the loss of personal items.
The Perama guests filed reports with the police at Labuanbajo but were told the cause of the incident was “a combination of weather, the crew not being able to see where they were going and hitting a reef,” said McCulley.
She sought assistance from Aryati to return to Bali. “She responded that I should have empathy for the company as they were going through a difficult time. I responded that I found it incredibly inappropriate that she asked us, the passengers, to feel empathy for the company after we nearly lost our lives due to their actions.”
Argentinean Juan Ortiz, who was on the trip with his girlfriend, said he was traumatized by the incident and “very upset about the way Perama treated us, leaving us without any answers or help.”
He said: “I understand the risks, but not with this company that makes lots of money every day. We are from Argentina, in another part of the world, and coming to Indonesia required a big effort. It was kind of a dream, a very expensive one, and we are very sad that it finished like this.”
It is the second such incident involving a tourist boat in Komodo waters in six months. Last September a diveboat operated by Blue Dragon Indonesia sank with 12 tourists on board after it also hit rocks. Two crew members were injured as all on board swam to shore.