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14 killed in Indonesia passenger boat fire

Search and rescue is still on in the waters off East Nusa Tenggara province in central Indonesia
Passengers evacuating after the Cantika Express 77 ship caught fire in the waters off East Nusa Tenggara province in central Indonesia on Oct. 24

Passengers evacuating after the Cantika Express 77 ship caught fire in the waters off East Nusa Tenggara province in central Indonesia on Oct. 24. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 25, 2022 11:56 AM GMT

A ship that caught fire in Indonesia's Christian-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara has killed at least 14 people, adding to the long list of cases of maritime transport accidents in the country.

The fast boat, Cantika Express 77, caught fire in Naikliu waters, near Kupang, the provincial capital, on Oct. 24 at 1 pm while sailing to Kalabahi, Alor district.

According to I Putu Sudayana, head of the province’s Search and Rescue Office, as of Oct. 25, they had evacuated 326 people, 14 of whom died.

Most of the victims, he said, floated in the sea for 5-6 hours.

He said the joint rescue team together with local fishermen is still searching for passengers who are suspected to be missing.

He added that they could not confirm the real number of passengers on the ship, considering that the number that had been evacuated was far higher than the manifest data - 167 passengers and 10 crew members.

"Therefore, we are still continuing to search," he said at a press conference.

Mathias Asmau, one of the survivors, said that before the fire started, there was an explosion at the rear of the deck, which caused a number of passengers, including children, to jump into the sea.

"There was no alarm or warning sign that the ship was on fire," he said.

Asmau said there was chaos as each passenger looked for their own safety. Someone broke the glass of the ship's door.

Darius Beda Daton, chairman of the province’s ombudsman, called for a thorough investigation into the incident including the ship's safety standards and passenger numbers.

He said the Provincial Transportation Service needed to be investigated regarding the completeness of the requirements for obtaining a ship operating permit.

"It takes discipline from all relevant agencies to carry out standard operating procedures and service standards correctly, not just as a formality," he told UCA News.

Meanwhile, the head of the East Nusa Tenggara Transportation Service, Isak, said they are currently focused on searching for victims, and then let the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) take over the investigations and determine who is responsible for the tragedy.

Ship accidents are still common in Indonesia.

According to the KNKT, there were 19 shipping accidents in 2021 that killed 123 people, an increase from 12 cases in 2020 which killed 44 people.

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