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54 Dead, More Than 100 Missing in Ferry Sinking

January 20, 1996

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ High waves and strong winds hampered the search Saturday for survivors of a ferry that sank in a storm off the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra. More than 130 people were missing and 54 confirmed dead.

Thirty-nine people were found alive, including an unidentified American woman who worked for the aid group Save the Children and a 6-year-old child who had been drifting about an hour in rough seas.

The ferry went down with 210 passengers _ including 11 foreigners _ and 16 crew members around 8:30 p.m. Friday.

Indonesia’s official news agency, Antara, said the ship slammed into a coral reef. A port official said the ferry had reported engine trouble earlier in the day.

The news agency later quoted a survivor as saying the ferry sank after being hit by huge waves.

``It happened so fast... the passengers were screaming while jumping into the sea,″ said Haji Amin, who swam about a hour before he was rescued. He was wearing a lifebelt.

Fifty-four bodies were found, said Auli Amri of the Banda Aceh Post Command, a government center set up to coordinate search and rescue efforts.

The state-run ferry Gurita sank about an hour after leaving Malahayati, on northern Sumatra, about 1,100 miles northwest of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, Amri said. It was bound for the island of Weh, a 15-mile trip.

An officer at the Port Authority on Weh said many of the passengers likely were trapped inside the wreckage, which was believed submerged in 330-feet-deep waters.

The port authority official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ferry had delayed its departure for about an hour because of an engine problem.

The 555-ton vessel was carrying 33 vehicles, 80 tons of cement and 14 tons of foodstuff, Amri said. The actual number of passengers may have been much higher than the 210 listed on the manifest.

Auli Amri said the rescue team included one warship, two helicopters a tug boat and two oil tankers along with dozens of fishing ships. Bad weather was hampering search efforts.

Update hourly