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Grief and prayers as search for sunken Indonesian ferry ends

/ 07:13 PM July 03, 2018

Family members of missing victims of a capsized ferry mourn during a mass memorial service at Lake Toba in North Sumatra on July 3, 2018. The retrieval of scores of bodies from an Indonesian ferry that sunk into the depths of one of the world’s deepest lakes is being called off, a rescue official said on July 2. / AFP PHOTO / IVAN DAMANIK

Grieving relatives prayed and cast flower petals into the volcanic lake where a ferry sank last month in one of Indonesia’s worst maritime accidents, as the search for more than 160 missing passengers was called off Tuesday.

The vessel was believed to be operating illegally with no manifest and not enough life jackets when it disappeared into the depths of Lake Toba, a picturesque tourist spot in Sumatra.

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Just three passengers have been confirmed dead, with 21 survivors. There are 164 others — including children — listed as missing.

Some people lost whole families when the doomed vessel went down and hundreds of mourners have spent the past two weeks keeping vigil by the shore.

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On Tuesday, tearful relatives gathered to lay wreaths and attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new memorial as the search was wrapped up.

Others prayed or boarded rescue boats to toss petals into the crater lake, but the decision to end the search was painful for many.

“We lost our two very dear children — both have left us,” Soleh, who uses only one name, said after laying a stone in memory of his kids at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Authorities have pinpointed the boat at some 420 metres (1,475 feet) below the surface of the lake by using remotely operated underwater vehicles.

But Toba’s vast depths pose a massive challenge to rescuers who do not have the necessary equipment to recover the boat or the many bodies thought to be trapped inside.

“Even if it was possible, it would take a very long time with high risks,” said Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs.

Officials met with the families to explain that the search was going to be called off.

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Lake Toba, which fills the crater of a supervolcano that exploded in a massive eruption tens of thousands of years ago, is one of the world’s deepest lakes, plunging to around 500 metres in places.

The traditional wooden boat could have been carrying five times the number of passengers it was built to hold, along with dozens of motorcycles, officials have said.

Five suspects have been named, including the boat’s captain, as well as local port and transportation officials.

In a separate incident Tuesday, at least a dozen people died in a ferry accident off the coast of Indonesia near Sulawesi island.

Maritime accidents are common in Indonesia, where many people depend on boats to get around the 17,000 island archipelago nation.   /vvp

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