At least 15 people drowned when a boat carrying at least 48 passengers capsized off the coast of the archipelago’s Sulawesi island, Indonesian rescue officials said on Monday, while some were rescued and taken to hospital.
Muhammad Arafa, head of the local search and rescue agency in the city of Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi, said in a statement that 27 other passengers had been traced and all the victims had been identified.
The agency had previously said 19 people were missing, but Arafa said the search operation had now been “declared finished and closed”.
The boat was crossing a creek between Lanto and Lagili villages in Central Butan Regency on Muna island, which is known by the same name as many Indonesians, said Wahyudin, a spokesman for the local rescue office.
Survivor Marlina, 18, said the boat was “full” of passengers when it started leaking.
“Initially it was normal, but suddenly someone shouted that water had entered,” he said.
“The boatman said ‘okay’… Eventually the boat capsized because the boat was full. We just fell over. There was no wind or waves.”
According to local media, the villagers were traveling for a local festival and had gathered on an overcrowded boat which capsized on its way back into the bay.
In Indonesia, it is common for the actual number of passengers on a boat to differ from what appears.
Vahyudin told AFP The passengers were first recorded as missing because they “saved themselves, and once they reached land, they went home”.
“The ship was a wooden passenger boat, not a yacht as was initially reported,” he added.
The rescue agency shared pictures of several bodies covered with sarongs and kept on tarpaulins at a local hospital.
Maritime accidents are a frequent occurrence in the Southeast Asian archipelago country of some 17,000 islands, where people rely on ferries and small boats to travel despite poor safety standards.
In 2018, more than 150 people drowned when a ferry capsized in one of the world’s deepest lakes on the island of Sumatra.