Ferry accidents have the potential to be tragic with so many people on one boat. This was the case early New Year’s Day in Indonesia, when 23 people were killed in a ferry accident. The Zahro Express, a ferry taking passengers from Jakarta to Tidung Island caught fire, likely in the engine bay of the vessel, and quickly engulfed the entire boat. Among the 200 passengers and crew, 23 are known to have been killed, 17 were injured, and 17 were still missing one day later.
A New Year’s Tragedy
The accident occurred early in the morning on January 1 as the Zahro Express traveled from Jakarta to Tidung Island. The boat left at 8:00 in the morning and by 8:15 passengers reported hearing an explosion somewhere on the vessel. The fire spread rapidly and by fifteen minutes after the explosion it had reached the hull. Man of the boat’s passengers jumped immediately into the water without putting on life vests. Local fishermen were able to pull many of these people out of the water and save them from drowning.
By 8:50 local rescue vehicles, including boats, were on the scene trying to find survivors and taking them back to shore. The fire was put out by the local firefighters. Injured survivors of the accident were rushed to a hospital in Jakarta. More than two hours after the first explosion that started the fire, the remains of the boat were towed into the harbor from which it departed.
Captain and Crew Members Arrested
The responsibility for the safety of passengers aboard a vessel like the ferry involved in this accident lies with the crew, and ultimately the captain. While the cause of the accident is still under investigation the local police questioned and then arrested the captain and three crew members. The captain, Mohammad Nali is being accused of having left the ship while it was still on fire and while passengers were still on board.
Although the investigation is still in early stages, already the investigators found a procedural error. The number of passengers listed on the manifest does not match the number found to have actually been on the ferry. The boat may have been overloaded. This would not have caused the fire, but could have resulted in a more tragic outcome than would have occurred if the boat had not had too many passengers aboard during the fire. The most likely cause of the fire is thought to be a fuel leak. Witnesses described seeing a spark come from the engine. The fire then spread rapidly, which could be explained by a leak of fuel from the tank.
Ferry Service to Be Standardized
In response to the recent tragedy, Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry has announced it will standardized ferry service to the Thousand Islands, the region in which the Zahro operated. The standardization will involve using state-owned ship operators to provide ferry services accountable to the government and its oversight.
Fires aboard ships are particularly dangerous because passengers and crew are trapped in an enclosed space. Precautions are necessary to prevent fires, but safety training for crew is also crucial. Adequate training and safety equipment, such as life vests and lifeboats can save lives in incidents like this one.