PAREPARE, Indonesia – A rescue team guided by a survivor was dispatched into stormy Indonesian seas Tuesday in search of dozens of people said to be still drifting alive after a ferry capsized with more than 250 on board, officials said.
The survivor, pulled from the water earlier Tuesday by fishermen, told authorities another 40 people escaped the boat before it sank in a cyclone and are still at sea, said Sutriani, a port official in Majene, Sulawesi.
Air and sea patrols resumed at sunrise, two days after the 700-ton Teratai Prima disappeared with at least 250 passengers and 17 crew onboard.
So far, at least 34 people, including the captain, have been rescued and one body recovered. Hopes had been fading that anyone else would be rescued because of the continuing bad weather caused by Cyclone Charlotte.
But a search party was deployed on a police boat with a survivor and fishermen acting as guides, said Sutriani. It is customary in Indonesia to use only one name.
A group of around 40 men is clinging to a floating platform used by fishermen, said Lt. Col. Zakarya, a rescue coordinator in Majene, citing accounts given by fishermen.
"We have to rescue them immediately," he said. "We have taken the fishermen to show us the way."
Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal said earlier Tuesday an investigation was under way to determine why the captain apparently ignored warnings not to travel into the Makassar Strait.
The government will compensate families $2,400, or roughly two times an average annual salary in impoverished Indonesia, for each victim of the accident.
Most of those rescued thus far were picked up by fishing and cargo ships within hours of the sinking and taken to nearby ports. They told of a churning sea and relentless waves before the ferry suddenly submerged in the dark.
Baco, a passenger, was fast asleep in the ship's lower deck when sea water rushed in and swept away about 20 children within seconds as he looked on helplessly.
"They were just sucked away," he said, sobbing as he recalled how the boat suddenly capsized before dawn Sunday.
Baco, a father of five who was taking the ferry to Borneo to look for a job with an oil company, described the sudden horror of the scene.
"Many people were still sleeping when the water came to the second deck just above the engine room," said Baco, 40.
"Around 20 little children were taken by the sea. I could do nothing," he said, weeping as he described the screams of the drowning.
Baco clung to a piece of plastic foam and drifted for five hours before joining another man on a life raft. They were later picked up by fishermen.
The Teratai Prima, which radioed that it was in trouble just before dawn Sunday, capsized about 30 miles off the coast of western Sulawesi. It was headed for Samarinda on the Indonesian side of Borneo.
Boats are a major form of transportation in Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago with more than 17,000 islands. Poor enforcement of safety regulations and overcrowding causes accidents that claim hundreds of lives each year.
In December 2006, a crowded Indonesian ferry broke apart and sank in the Java Sea during a violent storm, killing more than 400 people.