JAKARTA: The search resumed Monday for a ferry missing in central Indonesia with more than 100 people on board, despite nearly two days passing since the stricken vessel was last heard from.
Nearly 80 people are still missing after the ferry ran into trouble in rough weather in Sulawesi on Saturday, but search and rescue teams returned to the seas at daybreak on Monday in an increasingly desperate bid to find any sign of the boat and its passengers.
Three people, including two children, have been confirmed dead so far. All the victims are Indonesians.
Officials say 39 others have been plucked from the water alive, some by fishermen after desperately clinging to buoys and fishing traps for hours in huge swells until help arrived.
The families of those missing have been nervously awaiting any news of their loved ones in Siwa, where the ferry had been destined before it sent out a distress signal and lost contact with authorities.
But after days of torrid weather in the Bay of Bone where the ferry disappeared — including waves up to five meters high — authorities are hoping calmer conditions will aid the search.
“The weather is quite good today, hopefully we will find more people,” local rescue head Roki Asikin told AFP, adding his team was feeling optimistic as they set off at daybreak.
“We are still searching for the survivors.”
Six boats — including two fishing vessels — and one helicopter have been deployed to comb the gulf where the ferry vanished, an area where inter-provincial ferries are vital for those wishing to cross the vast island.
Officials have dismissed claims the boat has sunk, despite initial media reports the boat had gone down in ferocious seas, saying instead it was adrift having lost engine power.
The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on ferry services but the industry has a poor safety record and fatal accidents are common.