Police Question Captain of Sunken Lake Toba Ferry as Search for Victims Widens


JUNE 21, 2018

Tigaras, North Sumatra. Police have questioned the captain of the ferry that sank without a trace in Lake Toba in Sumatra this week, warning that a criminal investigation could be launched over a disaster that has left at least 192 people missing.

Desperate relatives awaiting news of loved ones prayed and sang hymns at the port on Lake Toba after one of Indonesia's worst ferry disasters in years left four confirmed dead and 18 survivors, including the captain.

"We see there's a possibility to begin a criminal investigation because of negligence that resulted in people losing their lives," National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said on Thursday (21/06), while visiting the base of rescue operations at the lake, one of the world's deepest.

"The captain may be named a suspect," Tito said, adding that regional transportation officials would also be questioned about supervision.

Authorities were trying to get clearer information from the captain and survivors on where the vessel went down.

"[The captain's] health remains unstable. We asked him some questions, but he has yet to remember clearly," Samosir Police chief Adjutant Chief Comr. Agus Darojat told Metro TV.

Teams of divers resumed a search for the wooden ferry, which may have had aboard nearly five times the number of passengers it was supposed to carry when it went down in bad weather on Monday.

"We've expanded [the search area] from 6 kilometers to 10 kilometers," Budiawan, an official at the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told reporters.

Authorities were waiting for more sophisticated navy equipment that can plumb depths of as much as 450 meters in some places, he added.

The picturesque lake fills the caldera of a giant ancient volcano that erupted about 75,000 years ago in one of history's biggest eruptions.

On the quay, hundreds of people sang hymns, some in the regional Batak language, in an area of predominantly Muslim Indonesia that is home to a large Christian community.

Waiting at the quayside for news of the family of her 20-year-old daughter who took the ill-fated ferry, one distraught mother criticized the disorganized nature of the initial rescue effort.

"Just looking at the videos of them throwing lifesavers, it looked haphazard," the woman, Turia, said on Wednesday, describing attempts by nearby ships to help survivors.

The mobile telephone of Turia's daughter, who was accompanied on board by her husband and the couple's 2-1/2-year-old daughter, has not been active since Tuesday, Turia added.

The country frequently suffers boat accidents, with basic safety rules often flouted and vessels overloaded.

Last week, 13 died after a boat carrying about 43 people sank off Makassar in South Sulawesi, while a speedboat carrying 30 passengers sank off South Sumatra, killing at least two.

In Lake Toba, there has also been a string of previous accidents, including a 1997 sinking that killed about 80 people.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the government would push to prevent future boat accidents.

"I ask that this kind of case will not happen again and I have asked the transportation minister to evaluate all safety standards for ferry transport," he said in a statement late on Wednesday.