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Grim search: Divers from the Navy’s Western Fleet and Jala Mengkara Detachment (Denjaka) elite special operations forces, examine the wreckage of the KMP Bahuga Jaya on Monday, a ferry that sank in the Sunda Strait on Sept. 26 after colliding with an oil tanker. About 50 people, many still missing, are feared dead in the accident.(Antara/Kristian)
The death toll following the recent ferry-tanker collision in Sunda Strait waters near Rimau Balak Island, Bakauheni Port, Lampung, is predicted to rise to around 50, as more than 40 passengers of the passenger ship are still missing.
The ferry, the KMP Bahuga Jaya, sank on Wednesday after being hit by the Singapore-owned Norgas Chatinka tanker, which was transporting chemicals. Eight passengers were killed in the accident, while dozens of others went missing.
Reports have been filed by survivors and families with state-owned seaport operators PT ASDP Bakauheni and PT ASDP Merak, as well as the search and rescue (SAR) team since Wednesday. As of Monday, more than 40 passengers were reported as still missing.
The SAR team is currently focusing on finding the missing victims. They have located the wreck of the sunken ship some three nautical miles from the collision site.
PT ASDP Bakauheni’s operational manager, Heru Purwanto, said that although 214 of the 215 passengers listed on the ship’s manifest had been evacuated, there was a possibility that other victims had drowned as the ship sank. “There is a possibility that some passengers were not listed on the manifest. It’s those people we’re looking for,” Heru said.
A difference in the number of listed as opposed to actual passengers was possible, according to Heru, as shipping operators usually did not check passengers as they boarded their vessels. Passengers only had to show their tickets. Those on board a bus, for example, only had to pay for the ship’s ticket when they got off the bus that had already driven on board the ship.
“We will cross check all the data,” said the joint SAR team coordinator, Saidar R. Jaya, on Monday.
Saidar said 32 skilled divers had been deployed to search for remaining victims. Of the divers, 19 are Jakarta-based marines, while the other 13 are Surabaya-based marines. “We will conduct the search for three days,” he said.
Lampung Water Police chief, Sr. Comr. Edion, said three members of the tanker crew had been named suspects for causing the collision. They were Capt. Ernesto Lat, 53, from the Philippines; control room officer Su Jibhing, 38, from China; and helmsman Cristian Bryan, 24, from the Philippines.
Edion said the three had been arrested on board the tanker around three nautical miles from the collision site. “We named them suspects after questioning them several times,” said Edion, adding that the three were currently being detained at Lampung Water Police headquarters in Bandar Lampung, the provincial capital.
There has been speculation that the recurring shipping accidents in the Sunda Strait are partly due to the age of many of the passenger ferries. Of the 30 ferries that ply the Bakauheni-Merak route, more than 15 were built in the 1970s.
The Indonesia Maritime Magazine (IMM) recently released data stating that of the 31 (roll on-roll off/Roro) ferries operating along the Merak-Bakauheni route, 13 had falsified their ages. The magazine reported that the KMP Bahuga Jaya, which was believed to have been built in 1972, was registered as having been made in 1992.
PT Atosim Lampung Pelayaran (ALP), the owner of the KMP Bahuga Jaya, denied the accusation, saying that data at the Transportation Ministry showed that the ship was made in 1992.
“We refer to [data at] the ministry. It states the KMP Bahuga Jaya was made in 1992,” said Franky, a staff member at PT ALP.
Shipping manifests that are not well-managed and that do not record the names and addresses of all passengers on board a vessel have also been blamed for chaotic data on ships’ passengers and for differences in the number of passengers listed on the manifest as opposed to the actual passengers on board the ship.