June 19, 2018 / 1:32 AM / 5 months ago

Rescuers hunt for victims of ferry disaster on Indonesian supervolcano lake

TIGARAS PORT, Indonesia (Reuters) - The search for victims of a ferry that sank in the lake of an ancient supervolcano crater in Indonesia will resume on Wednesday with divers and an underwater drone to scour the depths for at least 128 missing passengers.

The wooden tourist ferry sank in rough weather on Lake Toba on Sumatra island on Monday. Eighteen survivors were found that evening, but only one body was recovered, and a day long search on Tuesday was suspended having failed to account for any more.

One survivor, Widya, said her family died when the boat was hit by strong waves.

“There were at least five couples with two children each. I wish I had died with my family, but I didn’t,” she told Metro TV in tears.

Transportation minister Budi Karya said a team of investigators was looking into the cause of the accident.

“We believe there was a waterspout that generated strong winds and waves that destabilized the boat and caused a panic,” he told reporters.

Authorities were still trying to confirm the total number of passengers, but said at least 128 people were missing, including many children.

A woman prays for her son, a passenger on the KM Sinar Bangun ferry which sank yesterday in Lake Toba, in Simalungun, North Sumatra, Indonesia June 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Irsan Mulyadi/ via REUTERS

The ferry had capacity for 60 passengers but was overloaded and also carrying dozens of motorcycles, said Sri Hardianto, an transport ministry official.

Video footage taken from another ferry showed life jackets being thrown to a dozen or more people in the water. There was no sign of the stricken ferry apart from what looked like an oil slick.

“We’ve asked for a remote underwater vehicle (to locate the sunken vessel) and the help of special land, sea, and air crews,” Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency, told reporters.

Divers were also being sent to search for victims, according to another SAR official Budiawan.

Lake Toba fills the caldera of a giant volcano that erupted some 75,000 years ago - one of the world’s biggest eruptions which left behind a 450-metre (1,500 feet) deep lake.

The scenic lake, with an area of about 1,145 square km (450 square miles), has an island in the middle where tourists visit, from which ferries run back and forth.

There was no word on whether any foreign tourists were among the missing.

Slideshow (9 Images)

The transport minister said investigators would check whether the doomed boat had been equipped with life jackets and whether they had been used.

“The responsible parties should face sanctions in accordance with the law,” he said.

Ferry accidents are common in Indonesia, a vast archipelago, especially during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which fell last week, when millions of people travel by land, sea and air to their hometowns after the fasting month of Ramadan.

Additional reporting by Tabita Diela and Jessica Damiana in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel & Simon Cameron-Moore

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