REMBANG, Indonesia – Bloated bodies washed up along Indonesia's coastline days after a ferry sank in stormy weather leaving 400 people missing, but rescue teams refused to give up hope with survivors still being found in life-rafts, some desperately waving their arms.
Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said Monday nearly 200 had been found alive and vowed to keep up search and rescue efforts for at least a week, as an air force plane dropped food and water to some survivors stranded in the Java Sea.
Weeping relatives camped out at a local hospital were becoming more and more desperate, however, and a temporary morgue was being set up at a port close to where the crowded passenger ship went down Friday just before midnight.
Hundreds of body bags have been readied.
"I am tired of crying," said Sipan, who goes by only one name, as he waited at Rembang hospital for news of his son. "Dead or alive, I will accept his destiny. It is up to God. All I can do is keep waiting."
The Senopati Nusantara sank quickly after being pounded by heavy waves for more than 10 hours as it neared the end of a two-day journey from the Indonesian section of Borneo island to the country's main island of Java.
Radjasa said 628 people were on board, based on the manifest, and that 191 survivors had been found alive either packed into lifeboats, clinging on to debris or on beaches after swimming ashore.
Search teams said by late Monday about 100 bodies had been recovered.
Improved weather conditions were enabling emergency rations to be dropped to survivors previously unreachable because of high waves and strong winds.
Supplies wrapped in plastic and attached to inflated tires were thrown to about 10 people in a life-raft and several others in buoyancy vests. Search teams will try to pick them up later, officials said.
"They are alive, they waved their hands," said pilot Lt. Wisnu Wijayanto.
Harrowing tales about the ship's last moments continued to emerge.
One survivor said many victims were trapped in the lower decks of the ferry, unable to escape the vessel as it slid beneath the sea's surface.
"I thought I was going to die there and then," said Syahrul, a 21-year-old palm plantation worker who was on the 3rd floor of the ship when it suddenly veered to the left and began sinking.
"I heard people screaming from the second floor, 'Open the door! Help!' Hundreds must have died down there," said Syahrul, who was recovering in a hospital Monday.
Waluyo, 50, recalled holding onto a large tire and seeing two of his children lose their grip and drown.
"For 17 hours we held on, sometimes being turned over in the swell, but one-by-one the people fell off, including my two children," he said. "I could not do anything apart from pray." Waluyo also goes by a single name.
Officials have given differing estimates of the numbers of people saved and bodies collected, hampered by poor communication and the fact that ships are bringing survivors to shore at several ports.
Cpt. Hadi Siswanto, the head of search and rescue operations, said bodies were washing ashore hundreds of miles east of the disaster site.
Indonesia's tropical waters are generally between 72 and 84 degrees. People have been known to survive for days at sea, but only with a buoyancy aid.
The ferry, which was built in Japan in 1992, had a capacity of 850 people. Officials say bad weather was the cause of the accident.
Indonesia has been wracked by weeks of seasonal rains and high winds that have caused several deadly floods, landslides and maritime accidents.
On Monday, rescue teams were dispatched after a commercial Adam Air passenger plane with more than 100 people onboard sent out a distress signal while flying in bad weather in Indonesia.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged rescue teams to keep up the hunt for survivors of the ferry accident.
"I'm constantly in contact with central and local officials about the efforts to save our brothers and sisters," he said at a prayer meeting in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. "The floods and the sinking of the ship in the Java Sea are a test from Allah."