Survivors describe panic on board doomed Indonesia ferry

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December 31, 2006 Jakarta NewsNet

Indonesian ferry Senopati Nusantara

JAKARTA - Survivors of an Indonesian ferry disaster Saturday described how panic spread among the hundreds of passengers as the ship rocked violently in stormy conditions before sinking.

More than 500 people were missing after the "Senopati Nusantara" (Archipelago Commander) sank in a storm off the coast of Java, where search and rescue efforts were called off due to rough seas.

Some 59 people have been rescued so far, and most were being treated in hospital in Rembang, northeast of Semarang, the ferry's destination.

One of the survivors said the ship started to feel unstable in the rough seas on Friday afternoon, several hours before it sank.

"It started at about 2:00 pm on Friday and I could see that the ship was clearly not stable. Many of the passengers were already panicking and feeling edgy," Irfan Setiawan told MetroTV.

A fellow survivor described the nightmare conditions shortly before the ship went down Friday night.

"It was late at night and the ship was rocking and swaying and it looked as if the ship would capsize and it kept getting worse through the night," Holit told ElShinta radio.

"Finally, at about 11:00 pm people were really panicking as we could feel the ship rocking violently. People were then asked to put on their life jackets and hang on to some floats," he said.

"I was looking for my daughter but it was just too dark, and suddenly it was as if the ship had snapped and broke, but I could not tell what happened exactly," said Holit.

Setiawan said it was "as if the ship had lost its balance and overturned".

Passengers were then thrown into the sea and spent hours floating in their life jackets or on life rafts in the stormy waters, before being rescued by passing fishermen or navy ships.

"We were all suddenly thrown into the water and floating on the sea and I had lost my daughter," Holit said.

"I hung on to a float and at 6:00 am the next day a fisherman's boat spotted us after hearing our cries for help. There were 19 of us stranded out there and praying that we would be saved," he said.

"We were all rescued and brought to the Rembang hospital for treatment."

Holit's 18-year-old daughter, Lailatul Badriah, was not among those rescued so far.

"I survived by holding onto a float on the ship and the water washed me away from the wreck towards the open sea," Setiawan said.

"There were many passengers scrambling to save themselves ... there were more than 30 of them there at that time."

Marine transport official Suharto said the ship appeared to have capsized.

"Based on the latest information we have, we know that it did not break -- maybe it cracked and capsized, but we are still investigating," Suharto told ElShinta.

"We have also informed nearby ships to look out for any victims and offer help."

Semarang port official Slamet Rahardjo said there were 545 passengers and 57 crew on board when it sank.

- AFP /ls