Indonesia: ferry carrying 240 people catches fire killing at least 14 people - what happened?

Indonesian search and rescue team personnel carry a victim after a boat caught fireIndonesian search and rescue team personnel carry a victim after a boat caught fire
Indonesian search and rescue team personnel carry a victim after a boat caught fire | CNA via AFP
A passenger boat in Indonesia caught fire, killing 14 people

A passenger boat carrying 240 people caught on fire off southern Indonesia on Monday (24 October) killing 14 people, rescue officials said.

The KM Express Cantika 77 was headed to Kalabahi from Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara province when it caught ablaze.

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What happened?

A search and rescue operation recovered 241 people alive out of 254 passengers and crew, Isyak Nuka, head of East Nusa Tenggara’s transportation agency, told AFP. “13 people are dead. All 241 others are evacuated,” Nuka said, without specifying the cause of the fire.

CNA via AFP

However, the Indonesian newspaper Kompas reports the head of a local search and rescue agency, I Putu Sudayana, gave a higher death toll of 14 and a lower passenger and crew count of 240. He told AFP: “We have evacuated 240 people with 14 dead, 226 survived”.

What was the cause of the fire? 

The KM Express Cantika 77 erupted in flames off the coast of Timor island in East Nusa Tenggara province, prompting passengers to jump overboard. The boat’s top deck set alight as it sailed from the provincial capital Kupang to the town of Kalabahi on Alor island.

However, the cause of the fire is being investigated. Channel News Asia (CNA) reports Nuka said authorities dispatched three rescue boats and local fishermen sailed out in their own boats to help the search effort. Rescuers struggled to approach the ship because of the blaze and strong currents.

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Some survivors will be treated in a hospital for shock and the dead will be transferred to a police hospital in Kupang for identification. Many of those rescued had used life vests after the fire broke out and some swam directly to shore. The official said the boat had a capacity of 250 people.

Are boat accidents common in Indonesia? 

Ferry and boat tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, where ferries are often used for transport and safety is lax.

In 2018, an overcrowded ferry with about 200 people on board sank in a deep volcanic crater lake in North Sumatra province, killing 167 people.

In one of the country’s worst recorded disasters, an overcrowded passenger ship sank in February 1999 with 332 people aboard. There were only 20 survivors.

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