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Search for 120 missing in Indonesia ferry blaze

world Updated: Feb 24, 2007 14:51 IST

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The Indonesian navy is continuing to search for 120 people still missing after a deadly ferry fire, a navy spokesman said on Saturday.

"We still have seven navy ships and two reconnaissance aircraft scouring the Jakarta Bay towards the north and northeast," navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Hendra Pakan told AFP.

Sixteen people have been confirmed dead after fire broke out on the Levina I ferry shortly after it left the Indonesian capital on Thursday. More than 300 passengers and crew leapt into the water as the blaze raged out of control.

Pakan said the ferry, which was reported to be still letting out smoke, was being towed back to Jakarta.

"The ferry has been towed back to Jakarta early this morning (Saturday). It should arrive here late afternoon from its location 63 miles (101 kilometres) offshore," he said.

Media Indonesia daily reported the government had revoked permits for the operator of the Levina I for falsifying its manifest, declaring fewer passengers than it was actually carrying.

The ferry's skipper and four crew members have been questioned by police.

Early investigations suggest the fire was sparked by one of the lorries on the ferry's vehicle deck.

Lax enforcement of safety regulations, poor maintenance and a lack of investment in transport infrastructure have been blamed for a recent spate of air, sea and rail accidents.

A ferry sunk off the north coast of Java in December with 600 people on board. Some 250 people were rescued. The search for survivors has now officially ended, according to the state news agency Antara on Friday, quoting navy sources.

Ferries are a crucial link between the archipelago nation's 17,000 islands, and frequently carry more people than officially acknowledged.