Rescuers searching for 500 in Java Sea

From Times Wire Services

Navy ships scoured the rough Java Sea today in search of survivors from a ferry that sank in a storm off central Indonesia, leaving more than 500 people missing, officials said.

More than a day after the accident, 109 survivors had been rescued, Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told reporters in Semarang late Saturday. The ferry is thought to have had 638 passengers, Radjasa said. No bodies have been recovered, but some survivors reported seeing fellow passengers slip beneath the waves.

The Senopati Nusantara was on a 48-hour trip to Java from Borneo island when 15-foot waves crashed over the deck, said Slamet Bustam, an official at Semarang port, the ferry's destination.

Witnesses reported seeing people in lifeboats, many of whom had donned life jackets.

The temperature of Indonesia's tropical waters is 72 to 84 degrees, and people have been known to survive for days at sea.

Survivors said the boat, pounded by heavy waves for more than 10 hours, capsized late Friday.

Irfan Setiawan said a piece of debris hit him and he sank with the ship, but fought his way to the surface and climbed into a lifeboat.

Others clung to pieces of wood or swam to nearby islands.

Budi Susilo said he saw three people drown after losing their grip on an overturned raft.

Four naval ships, several other vessels and at least two aircraft have been searching the ship's last reported position, but poor visibility and stormy seas hindered their effort.

Officials said the car ferry, built in 1990 in Japan, was in good condition. It had a capacity of 850 passengers.

The sinking of the Senopati Nusantara was the second Indonesian ferry disaster in as many days. A vessel overturned Thursday night in rough seas off Sumatra. Rescue efforts were continuing.

"Of 51 passengers, we have found four bodies and 28 people have been secured," a police spokesman said today.

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