JAKARTA: At least four people died and nearly three dozen were missing after a ferry went up in flames off Indonesia's Java island, a port official said Friday (Aug 23).
The KM Santika Nusantara was travelling between the country's second-largest city of Surabaya and the town of Balikpapan on Borneo island with 277 people on board, when it caught fire on Thursday evening, a government official said.
Television images on Friday showed plumes of black smoke pouring out of the boat, as search teams hunted for the missing passengers after scores were rescued.
East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera confirmed Friday that at least four people died in the accident and dozens were unaccounted for.
Earlier, Syachrul Nugroho, a spokesman for Surabaya's Tanjung Perak port, gave a lower figure for the number of missing.
"We don't know if they're still on the boat," he said.
The cause of the accident was not immediately clear.
Nugroho said it appeared that a fire broke out and the ferry's power went down, cutting off water pumps.
"The crew couldn't extinguish the fire because the water pumps weren't working so passengers started to abandon the ship," he added.
Rescue efforts were complicated by the boat's manifest listing only 111 passengers, officials said.
Ferries are an important means of transport in Indonesia, an archipelago of about 17,000 islands, and sea connections are cheaper and more extensive than air links.
But safety standards are not always strictly enforced and accidents occur fairly often.
In June, 21 people died when an overloaded ferry sank in rough seas off Java's north coast.
About 160 people drowned when an Indonesian ferry sank into the depths of one of the world's deepest lakes on Sumatra island last year.
More than 300 people are estimated to have drowned in 2009 when a ferry sank between Sulawesi and Borneo.