JAKARTA, Indonesia – At least 12 people were killed and a frantic rescue operation was underway Tuesday off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi for dozens of passengers of a sinking passenger ferry run aground by its captain in a desperate bid to save lives.
The latest in a succession of boat tragedies in Indonesia comes on the same day that officials called off a search for 164 people presumed drowned when a wooden ferry sank two weeks ago in a deep volcanic crater lake on the island of Sumatra.
South Sulawesi province police spokesman Dicky Sondani said the Lestari Maju ferry was about 200 meters (yards) from shore. It had 139 passengers on board, according to its manifest, as well as cars, trucks and motorcycles.
Photos distributed via the National Disaster Mitigation Agency showed passengers perched on the listing vessel as others descended into the heavy seas using ropes hung over its side. Most appeared to be wearing lifejackets.
The agency said 12 people were dead, including two children aged 2 and 3.
Sondani said the captain steered the 48.5-meter-long (159-foot-long) vessel toward shore after it began sinking on a voyage from the port of Bira to Selayar island, just south of the main Sulawesi island.
Director-General of Sea Transportation Agus Purnomo said in a statement that the captain's actions were helping the rescue effort.
More than 30 people have been rescued and eight of them were being treated in a hospital, said Selayar district chief Basli Ali.
"We are still trying to evacuate the passengers with help from the police, army, search and rescue agency as well as locals," Ali said.
Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame. The Lake Toba sinking was the worst in about a decade.