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More people rescued in Indonesia ferry sinking

More survivors from an Indonesian ferry sinking were being brought ashore on Monday, but hundreds were still missing.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2007 12:17 IST

More survivors from an Indonesian ferry sinking were being brought ashore on Monday, but hundreds were still missing and bodies were scattered for miles on beaches along Java's coastline.

Rescuers had found nearly 180 survivors from the ferry that went down in stormy seas around midnight on Friday with close to 700 people on board, one official said late on Saturday.

Confirmed deaths were just five. There were reports of scores more bodies recovered or sighted but officials were having difficulty compiling definitive data.

"We are having problems because the victims are spread all across the beaches from Jepara to Rembang to Tuban and a lot of people are looking for victims, including sailors," said Toni Syaiful, spokesman for the navy's eastern fleet. The area he described stretches some 175 km long.

There was hope of finding more survivors as several life rafts had been spotted at sea on Sunday with people in them.

Thirty-five survivors picked up by fishing boats landed in Tuban in Central Java early on Monday.

They appeared weak and exhausted after an ordeal that began when the Senopati Nusantara ferry ran into trouble.

One survivor in Tuban said that as the ship started to roll over in high seas and heavy rains a ship officer had shouted "stay calm, stay calm" and ordered everybody to abandon ship.

"People started to fall off the lower side where the trucks were. I fell off also," said Susilo, a plantation worker in Kalimantan who was crossing over to Java to celebrate a Muslim holiday with his family.

"Five minutes later, the ship sank and it sank in just one minute," he said.

"I saw many children and people sink with the ship. I swam until I started to get tired, then I started looking for a life jacket. Around me were many dead people wearing life jackets. So I held onto one of the bodies," said Susilo, who like many of the survivors in Tuban had cuts on his arms and legs.

Another survivor, Yanti, said many elderly passengers failed to get into lifeboats.

"Many old people were just resigned to their fate when the ship began sinking. I thank God for allowing me to live longer," she told state news agency Antara.

Two helicopters and 17 vessels were involved in the search for survivors and bodies on Monday, Dody, an official at the national Search and Rescue office in Jakarta, said.

Nine-day search

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said late on Sunday he had urged rescuers to continue searching.

"I'm constantly in contact with central and local officials on the effort to save our brothers and sisters," he told a prayer session at the presidential palace.

Officials had already said they expected the search to last at least nine days, which would take it through next weekend.

According to the manifest, the Senopati Nusantara was carrying 628 people, including 57 crew.

By late Sunday, 177 survivors had been rescued, although one died after being taken aboard a fishing boat, Suharto, director of the transportation ministry's sea and coast guard said.

Transportation Minister Hatta Rajasa said the Japanese-built, 2,178-tonne Senopati Nusantara was seaworthy and had a capacity of more than 850 passengers.

The ship had been heading from Kalimantan on Borneo island to Semarang in Central Java. It was the second ferry disaster in as many days after a vessel overturned on Thursday in rough seas off Sumatra. Two people on that ferry died and 26 are missing, a rescue official said.

Ships and ferries are a popular means of transport among Indonesia's 17,000 islands, where sea connections are cheaper and more available than air routes. However, safety standards are not always enforced, and accidents occur fairly often.