Indonesia to strip license from Bali ferry company after five drown

Search and rescue boats search for survivors from the Rafelia II ferry that sank in the Bali Strait, near Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia March 4, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. REUTERS/Budi Candra Setya/Antara Foto

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s transportation ministry will revoke the operating license of a ferry company whose vessel sunk in the Bali Strait on Friday, killing five of the 81 people on board including a mother and her infant child.

Indonesia relies heavily on ferry services to connect the main islands in the archipelago, the world’s largest. But accidents are common, largely due to years of under-investment in infrastructure and a tendency to overload ferries.

The Rafelia II ferry was serving the popular crossing between Banyuwangi on the eastern tip of Java Island and Gilimanuk on the tourist resort island of Bali, when it sank just after 1 p.m. on Friday, around 1 km from the Java shore, domestic media reports said.

“Starting on Monday the operating license ... will be revoked,” Transportation Ministry spokesman J.A. Barata told Reuters on Sunday, referring to ferry operator PT Darma Bahari Utama, which only had a license for one vessel.

Barata said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) and transportation ministry officials were looking into the cause. At the time it capsized the vessel was carrying dozens of heavy trucks, Barata said.

Under Indonesian law, the company would be required to salvage the sunken vessel, he said.

According to National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Bambang Soelistyo, all who were traveling on the Rafelia II at the time it sunk were now accounted for.

“We have evacuated 81 victims and they match with the number of passengers in the manifest,” Soelistyo said.

Those who died had become trapped in the sinking ferry, he said.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen; editing by Susan Thomas