Simalungun (Indonesia) (AFP) – An Indonesian ferry that capsized and sunk with scores of people aboard has been found by search teams combing the depths of one of the world’s deepest lakes, authorities said Friday.
The vessel was believed to be operating illegally with no manifest and an insufficient number of life jackets when it went down on Lake Toba, a picturesque tourist destination in Sumatra.
Authorities have struggled to pinpoint the exact number onboard when it went down nearly two weeks ago, in one of Indonesia’s deadliest maritime accidents.
Remotely operated vehicles found the boat Thursday night some 420 metres (1,475 feet) below the surface of the lake, the national search and rescue agency said.
Grainy video and photo footage showed several bodies and motorcycles, which the boat had been carrying, on the lake bed.
“Victims were seen at a depth of 455 metres — they were outside of the boat,” Nugroho Budi Wiryanto, a spokesman for the agency, told reporters.
“The vessel was found 420 metres deep,” he added.
At least eight bodies have been found, as well as clothing, ferry seats and rope from the ferry, Wiryanto said.
Just three passengers have been confirmed dead in the accident, with 21 survivors. Official estimates listed 164 others — including children — as missing.
They are presumed dead, with many bodies thought to be trapped inside the sunken ferry.
Two trawlers are being used to try to haul the boat to the surface, but the vast depths are posing problems for rescuers.
“We will continue to think of a way to pull it out and evacuate the bodies,” Wiryanto said.
“I pray we can find a solution because it’s very deep.”
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 some 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 local port and transportation officials.