Indonesia search goes on after Sulawesi ship sinking

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JAKARTA, Oct 20 (Reuters) Indonesian residents joined rescue teams scouring the seas off Sulawesi for any more survivors, two days after a packed passenger ship capsized killing at least 31 people, police said today.

The small wooden ship sank yesterday night just before reaching the town of Baubau, in southeastern Sulawesi, a large island in northern Indonesia.

Baubau's police chief said by telephone that so far there had been 125 survivors, but without an exact manifest it was impossible to know how many more people might still be missing.

''We are searching for other survivors. The rescue team is made up of the navy, search and rescue officials, police, the coast guard and residents in the coastal area,'' said police chief Moch Badrus.

Metro Television reported that three more bodies had been found in the wreckage of the vessel yesterday, but Badrus denied this.

The mayor of Baubau, Amirul Tamil, said on Friday that the boat had been overloaded. It was sailing during a holiday period to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The cause of the accident was still being investigated but the Jakarta Post newspaper reported that the ship may have capsized after passengers rushed on to the roof as it neared the coast to a get a stronger signal for their mobile phones.

The ferry operator could not immediately be contacted for comment.

It is often difficult to pin down the number of people on passenger ships in Indonesia, since official manifests are notoriously unreliable.

It is common for people to sneak on to ferries or bribe crew to let them aboard for less than the price of a ticket, meaning their names are not recorded.

The safety record of Indonesian passenger ships and ferries, widely used to connect the thousands of islands in the archipelago, is poor with vessels frequently overloaded and in poor condition.


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