Nearly 100 rescued after Batam-Singapore ferry hits floating object

All 97 passengers on board, including 51 Singaporeans and seven crew members, are safe and accounted for, according to the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
Channel NewsAsia 30 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE: Nearly 100 people were rescued after their ferry heading to Singapore from the Indonesian island of Batam hit a floating object on Sunday night (Nov 29).

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it received a report at about 9.45pm that an Indonesia-registered ferry “Sea Prince” had hit a floating object after leaving the Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam.

It said at the time of the incident, the ferry was in Indonesian waters and heading towards Singapore with 97 passengers, including 51 Singaporeans and seven crew.

The ferry operator, Batamfast, immediately activated two ferries to transfer all the passengers to the Nongsapura ferry terminal. All the passengers are accounted for and the ferry is in a stable condition, MPA said.

One of the passengers, Ms Chella Ho, who was travelling with two other friends, told Channel NewsAsia that the ferry sank slowly in deep waters halfway between Batam and Singapore.

She said the ferry operator launched two inflatable boats from the ferry for the passengers, but both inflatable boats also sank due to the overload. All the passengers wore life-saving jackets.

Ms Ho said some nearby vessels immediately came to their rescue and all passengers were saved. She said all passengers later arrived at Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal safely.

- CNA/de


All 97 passengers rescued after Batam-Singapore ferry hits floating object
AsiaOne 30 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - All 97 passengers on board a ferry on route to Singapore from Batam were safely rescued after the ferry had hit a floating object and began to sink slowly, according to local media reports.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it had received a report at about 9.45pm of the incident involving Indonesia-registered ferry, "Sea Prince", that departed from the Nongsapura ferry termimal in Batam.

At the time of the incident, the ferry was in Indonesian waters.

It was heading for Singapore with 97 passengers, including 51 Singaporeans and 7 crew.

One passenger told Channel NewsAsia that the ferry began to sink slowly in deep waters halfway between Batam and Singapore.

Ferry operator Batamfast immediately activated two ferries to transfer all the passengers, said MPA in its statement late Sunday (Nov 29) night.

The rescue ferries brought the passengers back to Nongsapura ferry terminal.

"All the passengers are accounted for and the ferry is in stable condition," said MPA.

Eventually, all passengers later returned to Singapore Tanah Merah ferry terminal safely, reported Channel News Asia.


Passenger ship plying in Batam-Singapore lane sinks
Antara 1 Dec 15;

Batam, Riau Islands (ANTARA News) - A passenger ship plying the Batam-Singapore route, which was carrying 97 people, including the crew, sank after hitting a floating object, but all the passengers survived.

"The accident occurred on Sunday night. The ship had sailed from Batam, carrying 97 people in all, including the crew. In the middle of the ocean, the ship hit a floating object," Harbor master of the Nongsapura port in Batam, Syahrim, stated on Monday.

According to him, the accident occurred when the ship was in the waters between Batam and Singapore

"It happened likely due to human error because the weather was good," he said.

Luckily, other ships which happened to be sailing close to the ill-fated passenger ship, immediately approached the vessel and rescued all the passengers.

"Thank God, all the passengers were safe and there were no injuries. Currently, the passengers have been taken by another ship to Singapore," Syahrim said.

With regard to the incident, the port master reminded all skippers to be more cautious, given the fact that the shipping route from Batam to Singapore is very crowded.

In addition to passenger ships, many cargo vessels and large tankers also cross the waters, Syahrim said, adding that the passenger ship which sails from Batam normally reaches Singapore in less than 60 minutes.(*)


Batam ferry incident: Passenger claims overcrowded rafts burst during evacuation
AsiaOne 30 Nov 15;

SINGAPORE - A number of passengers who were on board the "Sea Prince" ferry that hit a floating object while en route to Singapore from Batam have taken to social media, claiming that the rescue process had been dangerous and disorganised.

One passenger who was on the ferry, Adilah Rahmat, claimed that during the evacuation process, one of the life rafts that had been inflated had a leak, while another burst due to overcrowding.

In a lengthy Facebook post which recounted the incident in detail, she also claimed that the ferry had hit more than one object, and that two passengers had to offer their assistance when the engine room started filling up with water.

"During this time, no updates were given to the passengers from any crew members or the captain of the vessel," she recalled. She added that it was the passengers who took the initiative to get others to put on their life jackets, and that it was a passenger who went around to ensure that the lift jackets were properly secured.

Eventually, the ferry's captain told the passengers on board that a ship that had been deployed could not draw near to the ferry due to the shallow waters, and that life rafts would be used for the evacuation. Ms Adilah said that three rafts were inflated, and the passengers agreed to allow the elderly and children to be brought to safety first.

"Just as there were about 20 odd people on the first raft, someone realised that there was a leak in the raft. Air was released due to a hole in the raft. A second raft had to be opened to save the others."

A third raft was also inflated to help evacuate more passengers. "Unfortunately, the third raft burst due to overloading capacity. The passengers on the third raft panicked because they could not feel their feet on the raft anymore. Water had come in and the base of the raft was torn apart and was sinking," Ms Adilah recounted in her post, adding that passengers had to hold onto a rope encircling the raft.

Two small boats then approached the burst raft to help the passengers who were in the water, and they were all transferred into one of the boats after about 30 to 40 minutes.

But the passengers' troubles were not over yet, according to Ms Adilah, as passengers on board the second life raft then began shouting that their raft was sinking with water starting to enter.

"The boat and small boat then made its way to the second raft and transferred everyone into the boat," she said. The boats then made their way back to the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal.

The problems continued after the group returned to the Nongsapura Terminal. They were quickly ushered into another ferry, but a passenger then realised that there had not been any indication if all passengers had been accounted for.

They soon realised that two people who had been on the grounded ferry, an Indonesian and a Canadian, were missing. They were only later informed that the two had left the group.

"While this was going on, there were no updates as to where or what was the next step. No one from the authority addressed the issue to us. No one asked about our well-being," Ms Adilah said.

Back in Singapore, the passengers were further outraged when they realised that Singaporean authorities had been told that they had been safely transferred.

Ms Adilah said that the passengers, who were distressed and traumatised, were not given any explanations, and were only told by the police to go home and to lodge a complaint the following day.

"We were also told by Batamfast 'to send an email if there's any question'. We had to tell the personnel from Batamfast to get our particulars pertaining to any claims we may have and queries about the aftermath," she added.

Ms Adilah concluded her post by saying that she hoped the incident would help MPA and other agencies relook their standard operating procedures for emergencies.

She acknowledged that the crew of the ferry had done their best to ensure that the passengers were safe, but stressed that "it was really clear that there were no SOPs during an emergency".

"We are not here to get sympathy. We just want answers. It's our every right to know what had really happened to us."

Ms Adilah's post on Facebook was shared by a number of others, who corroborated her version of events. One passenger who shared the post, Mr Chella Ho, described the incident as a "traumatic experience".

Another, Mr Edmund Seah, shared the post with the status: "I am lucky. I got my life back."

In a statement on Sunday (Nov 29), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said that all 97 passengers on board the ferry had been safely rescued.

An MPA spokesperson added that it was informed by the ferry's operator, Batamfast, that two ferries it had deployed to transfer the passengers had been unable to approach the vicinity of the grounded ferry.



Passenger claims no clear instructions given in Batam ferry rescue
AsiaOne 30 Nov 15;

UPDATE: The Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) confirmed that passengers on the "Sea Prince" ferry that was grounded after hitting a floating object had been transferred back to the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal by rafts.

In response to queries by AsiaOne, an MPA spokesperson said that at the time of the incident, it was informed that two ferries were deployed to transfer the passengers by the ferry operator, Batamfast. "Based on subsequent reports, the two ferries were unable to approach the vicinity of the grounded "Sea Prince" and the passengers were instead transferred by small boats and rafts."

After reaching the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal, they then boarded one of the ferries that was earlier deployed to bring them back to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

The spokesperson added that MPA is working with Indonesian authorities to investigate the incident.

SINGAPORE - All 97 passengers on board a ferry on route to Singapore from Batam were safely rescued after the ferry had hit a floating object and began to sink slowly, according to local media reports.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it received a report of the incident at about 9.45pm on Sunday night, and that ferry operator, Batamfast, immediately activated two ferries to transfer the stranded passengers back to the Nogsapura ferry terminal in Batam.

Agonising wait

However, this may not have been the case, according to a passenger who was onboard the ferry.

Mr Swagat Banerjee, 23, told AsiaOne in a phone interview that the passengers had boarded inflatable rafts instead, and the whole rescue process took about three hours.

"After travelling about a mile and a half from Batam's ferry terminal, we heard a loud noise which resulted in the whole boat stopping immediately," said the Singapore resident.

The ferry had departed Nongsapura ferry terminal at about 6.40pm, 30 minutes later than the scheduled departure time, and was travelling for about 10-15 minutes before hitting an object.

At that time, it was already dark, according to Mr Banerjee, and passengers could only see lots of seaweed and floating objects in the water. It was his guess that the ship had probably hit a coral reef.

The breach was to the hull of the ship and "water was coming in" to the back of the ship, according to him.

Passengers on board were "confused" and did not know what to do as there was no clear instructions from the crew, who apparently did not speak any English.

After 20 minutes, passengers were told to put on life jackets but they were not told how to do so as Mr Banerjee said they weren't standard life jackets and only had a rope around the vest. He said a lot of tourists did not know how to wear the life jackets.

The Batamfast ferry was stranded at sea with little, or no help. There were at least two larger vessels nearby but they did not come closer.

Mr Banerjee said that passengers tried calling various authorities for help but to no avail. "There was no coast guard support the whole time," he said.

In the meantime, non-motorised fishing boats came to provide assistance and supplies like a power generator.

After about 30-40 minutes of waiting, all 97 passengers climbed onto three inflatable rafts only to wait another hour before smaller boats to tow them back to Nongsapura.

After disembarking their ferry, Mr Banerjee said it looked "visibly tilted".

He said he felt safer on the ferry than on the rafts as the rafts were overloaded. The maximum capacity of each raft is supposedly for 25 passengers.

However, Mr Banerjee estimated that there were about 40 people on his raft.

In the transfer process, passengers got wet as it was low tide and they lost personal belongings like passports and mobile phones as they got into the water.

"People suffered light injuries like sprains and cuts," he said.

The passengers eventually got to safety at Batam's ferry terminal at about 10pm, and returned to Singapore by about 12.20am on Monday.

In Singapore, the ferry operator reimbursed passengers $50 for transportation. Two representatives from Batamfast were at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to handle claims of loss of personal items.

In its statement late Sunday (Nov 29) night, MPA said that the Indonesian-registered ferry, "Sea Prince", departed from the Nongsapura ferry terminal with 97 passengers, including 51 Singaporeans, and seven crew members on board.

"All the passengers are accounted for and the ferry is in stable condition," MPA said.


97 passengers rescued from Batam-S'pore ferry
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Dec 15;

A TRIP to popular holiday destination Batam, Indonesia, became a nightmare for nearly 100 passengers on Sunday night, when the ferry taking them back to Singapore struck something.

They had to leave the ferry and brave the cold and rain while waiting in open waters to be rescued.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it was notified of the incident at about 9.45pm on Sunday. All 97 passengers on board, including 51 Singaporeans and seven crew members, are accounted for, it added.

It is understood that other passengers included British, South Korean and Portuguese nationals. No injuries were reported.

The passengers of the Indonesia-registered ferry, Sea Prince, told The Straits Times yesterday that the ferry hit a floating object about 10 minutes into its 45-minute journey from the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal in Batam.

Chella Ho, a quantity estimator in a chemical firm, said she felt the impact of the object against the vessel twice.

"We couldn't see what the object was but we felt this big impact on the ferry, before another impact again for the second time," said the 29-year-old, who had gone on holiday to Batam with two friends.

Passengers said they were told to evacuate the ferry some 40 minutes later, and to board life rafts back to the ferry terminal in Batam.

But water started entering their life rafts. Passengers said they waited for 20 minutes to more than an hour before local villagers came on their boats to rescue them.

The MPA said that the ferry operator, Batamfast, immediately activated two ferries to transfer all the passengers to the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal after the incident.

When contacted, Batamfast's general manager, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, said it was challenging for the two ferries to enter the channel to rescue the passengers. The channel was too narrow to accommodate the ferries side by side with the stalled ferry, he added.

The operator deployed three life rafts on the ferry and three bumboats from local villagers to help passengers back to the Batam ferry terminal, he said.

Giving an account of what happened after the ferry hit the object, he said water entered one of the compartments in the hull of the ship after it was struck.

Ferry staff decided to evacuate the passengers for safety's sake even though water had not entered the cabin area, he added.

The monsoon season may have caused the floating object to have gone in the ferry's way, said Mr Chua.

It is not known what the floating object is, but this is being investigated by the MPA.

Christina Siaw, chief executive officer of Singapore Cruise Centre, said that 95 passengers were on board the Sea Raider 2 ferry that arrived at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal at around 12.20am yesterday.

Two passengers decided to stay back in Nongsapura and did not board the ferry back to Singapore, she said.

"We have been informed by the ferry operator that none of the passengers sustained injuries," added Ms Siaw.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the head of the Port of Batam, Gajah Rooseno, said yesterday: "The preliminary information we have received is that the ship had just set sail for about 10 minutes from the port when the engine stalled on the high seas.

"Upon checking the engine, it was determined that it stalled because the propeller snagged on a rope in the water."


Her life raft was sinking in the rain
Lydia Lam, My Paper AsiaOne 1 Dec 15;

SHE had gone to Batam with a group of friends for a day trip and was settling in for the ride back to Singapore when the ferry hit an object in the water.

Housewife Wong Meilan, 62, was one of 97 passengers on board the Indonesia-registered ferry, Sea Prince, on Sunday night.

"We were just 10 minutes out (from the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal) when boom, we hit something," Madam Wong told My Paper yesterday. "I screamed. People started running, it was so messy."

According to Madam Wong, passengers were told to put on life vests and wait, which they did for about an hour.

She had hoped a rescue boat would be dispatched from Indonesia, which was "very near". When none came, crew members began lowering passengers into inflatable life rafts.

"We had to squeeze in and I saw only two rafts. Some people said there were up to 50 people in each raft, which was over the capacity," said Madam Wong in Mandarin.

She added that the ropes securing the life rafts to the ferry looked like they were about to snap at any moment.

"Someone screamed that the ropes were going to snap, so the crew members replaced them with thicker ones," she said before bursting into tears over the phone.

"There were holes in the life rafts and water kept coming in. I had to half-squat and the water reached up to my neck. I was so scared," she recalled.

As it was raining, it was difficult to climb out of the sinking rafts, added Madam Wong, who had lost her passport in the ordeal.

The passengers were later rescued by fishing boats and sent back to Nongsapura Ferry Terminal to take another ferry to Singapore. Madam Wong reached home only at 1.30am yesterday.

Said Madam Wong: "I just hope that they will ramp up their safety measures. Nobody died this time but if it happens again, I don't know if it will be so lucky."



104 rescued after Batam ferry hits floating object
FRANCIS LAW Today Online 1 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — It started off as a routine 40-minute ferry trip from the Indonesian island of Batam to Singapore yesterday (Nov 29), but things took a turn for the worse when the ferry hit an object in the water. This sparked off a mission to rescue the 97 passengers and seven crew members on board, where even nearby fishing boats gathered to help.

It was hours before the passengers and crew, including 51 Singaporeans, were rescued and brought to shore.

According to ferry operator BatamFast, the ferry, an Indonesia-registered vessel named Sea Prince, reported around 8pm that it had hit an object in Indonesian waters after leaving Nongsapura Ferry Terminal in Batam.

BatamFast passenger operations manager Chua Choon Leng said the operator despatched two vessels to the site of the incident within 20 minutes, but were unable to get closer to the damaged ferry because of sea conditions. The firm then deployed smaller vessels to rescue the passengers at around 9pm.

In the meantime, passengers on board were getting increasingly anxious. One passenger, Ms Chella Ho, shared on Facebook that the experience was traumatic, as there was little information from the crew about the incident or how to put on a life jacket.

While the crew had apparently deployed lifeboats, the boats appeared unable to support the weight of passengers and quickly filled with water, wrote Ms Ho on Facebook, adding that panicked passengers were trying to hold on for dear life.

Asked about these claims, Mr Chua said the lifeboats on the ferries are meant to hold up to 65 people, but declined to comment further as the operator was still trying to ascertain what happened.

Its ferry officers were still being questioned by the Batam harbourmaster today, and will also be queried by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), he said.

The operator was also unable to say what hit the ferry’s hull at this time and what damage it caused. Asked why the object was not detected before it hit, Mr Chua said: “It was at night, around … 8pm, so it was very dark. The radar was unable to pick up (the object) also.”

The company will share more details when it has conducted its own investigations, he said. He added that talks with insurers on compensation for passengers were in their “final stages” today, and that forms would be provided to passengers seeking compensation.

All passengers and crew made it to Batam shores at around 10.10pm yesterday. Ninety-five passengers arrived at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal at about 12.20am today. The crew and two passengers remained in Batam.

The MPA said it received a report on the occurrence at about 9.45pm. It is investigating the incident.


Life rafts 'last means of rescue': Expert
Chai Hung Yin, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 Dec 15;

It is crucial for life rafts to be serviced annually by manufacturer-approved service stations, said an expert with close to 30 years of experience in maritime safety.

The expert, who works for a company that deals in marine safety equipment, said: "These service stations have trained technicians, approved spares and service manuals to service the life rafts.

"The rafts are the last means of rescue, so they must work 100 per cent."

Problems can arise when the life rafts of these ferries are serviced in Batam, said the expert, who declined to be named.

He said: "Whether there is service is a question, because in Batam, most of the service stations are not approved by the manufacturer."

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) specifies the minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety.

It includes life-saving appliances and arrangements.

Ship owners are supposed to follow the rules set by Solas and the International Maritime Organisation.

"Owners circumvent this by going to these unauthorised service stations. Sad to say, it is an industry practice," said the expert.

He said the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore has the right to inspect vessels in Singapore waters to make sure it is up to safety standards.

CAPTAIN'S ROLE

The captain is paramount during an emergency, said the expert.

"He must take the lead and command. If he doesn't take control, panic will set in.

"If anyone were to be a hero and jump off, it will upset everything. When one jumps, everyone will jump."

In an emergency, only the master of the ship can give the order to abandon the vessel and the crew must be ready at their stations to marshall passengers to safety, said the expert.

As for passengers, he advised them to pay attention to the safety video that will usually play once a small ferry leaves the port, or the safety drills which are held in big ferries to inform passengers where life jackets and exits are.

During an emergency, the best they can do is remain calm and listen to instructions, he said.

"If there is no instruction to put on a life jacket and you put it on, people will start to panic. We don't want to create unnecessary alarm."


Batam ferry incident : Marine engineer's experience put to the test
Natasha Meah, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 Dec 15;

Mr Abdul Alim was among the passengers on the ferry on Sunday night that sprung a leak after hitting something in the sea while on its way to Singapore.

The 25-year-old marine engineer said he put his experience to the test and took charge of the situation.

He was one of two men who rushed to help bail water out of the vessel and tried to get the faulty water pump in the engine room working again.

"I immediately thought to help however I could. I realised the crew members didn't know how to manage what was going on," he said.

"They looked a bit shocked and perhaps they weren't fully equipped with the skills to deal with emergencies like that."

Although the crew members told him they were doing fine handling the situation, he knew he had to step in.

And since the crew members could speak only in Bahasa Indonesia, Mr Alim said he became an interpreter for the crew members and some of the passengers.

"I was running around the ferry, doing what I could. I helped lower passengers into the life rafts and ensured that everyone had their life vests on," he said.

Mr Alim also tried to calm passengers and gave them instructions such as to stand in a straight line down the middle of the ferry to maintain balance.


Panic grips passengers as life rafts take in water
Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Dec 15;

When their ferry was hit by an object, they escaped onto life rafts, only to feel their hearts sink when water started to seep in.

Ms Chella Ho, 29, a quantity estimator, said the life raft she was on went underneath the water surface at one point, with water reaching up to her neck. She was kept afloat by her life vest.

"People were shouting: 'It's sinking! It's sinking!'" she added.

Another passenger, who wanted to be identified only as Mr Ong, said two of the three life rafts sank.

"Everyone on board the raft was panicking and fighting to get off the sinking raft and onto a sampan," said Mr Ong, who had gone with friends to Batam and was on his way back to Singapore. There were young children on the rafts, he added.

"The remaining passengers on board the ferry tried to shout and calm down those in the waters, asking them not to panic. The scene was chaotic," he said.

About 100 passengers were on their way to Singapore from Batam on Sunday night when the Sea Prince ferry was hit by a floating object.

They put on life vests and got off the ferry onto life rafts, which were supposed to take them to the ferry terminal in Batam.

Instead, passengers had to wait for 20 minutes to more than an hour to be transferred to the terminal in bumboats operated by local villagers.

When contacted, the general manager of Batamfast, the ferry operator, said that two of the life rafts are now parked at the Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam .

The general manager, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, said the two rafts were not damaged.

Passengers The Straits Times spoke to said the situation could have been better handled with clearer and more timely updates.

Asked about this, Mr Chua said: "Of course, it could have been improved, but I believe our crew tried their best."

He added that the company is also investigating the incident and is liaising with an insurance company to work out compensation for passengers.


Batam ferry incident: 'People fended for themselves'
Natasha Meah, Chai Hung Yin, The New Paper AsiaOne 1 Dec 15;

The lights on the life vest, meant to attract the attention of potential rescuers, were allegedly not working.

None of the ferry crew seemed to know how many people the life rafts could safely carry.

And all four life rafts tore after the passengers climbed into them.

Worst of all, the rescue boats that were sent to the passengers never arrived and they had to be picked up by small vessels after bobbing in the cold, dark water for almost half an hour.

That was the horrific account given by some of those on board a ferry, heading to Singapore from the Indonesian island of Batam, which leaked after hitting something in the sea on Sunday night.

Ms Darini Soegiantoro, 32, and her boyfriend, Dutchman John Kerckhoffs, 50, were among the 97 people - including 51 Singaporeans and seven crew members - on board.

Fortunately, all were rescued.

Although the couple were happy to be alive, Ms Soegiantoro said they were appalled at the alleged lack of safety equipment aboard the Indonesia-registered ferry Sea Prince.

"Looking at the leaky life rafts, the chaos and horror as people fended for themselves and jumped into the next life raft or were getting hoisted onto boats and sampans, we realised that any of us could have died," said the product manager.

On Sunday night, the couple and their friends had boarded the 6.10pm last ferry to Singapore from the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal in Batam.

They sat in the front part of the lower deck. Among them were elderly passengers and families with children.

Ms Soegiantoro said: "Ten minutes into the journey, we heard a loud collision and a scratching noise, then the boat rocked. Everyone was quiet and just looked at each other, wondering what had just happened.

"Then we heard the engine slow down. A crew member came and checked something on the floorboard.

"I asked him in Bahasa Indonesia: 'What's going on? What happened? What are you doing there?' and he said he didn't know."

The engine sounded again and the ferry attempted to continue its journey. But less than a minute later, the same scratching sound was heard.

This time, the engine completely stalled. Some passengers stood, wondering what had happened.

Ms Soegiantoro said an alarm began to sound and a crew member rushed in, shouting: "Life vests! Life vests!"

SCRAMBLE

Everyone started to scramble, yanking the vests from under the seats.

Ms Soegiantoro said: "There were all these strings hanging from the life vests and we couldn't get the buckles to work so we just tied the loose strings around our bodies.

"Most of the lights on the vests also failed to work."

As there were no further announcements, Ms Soegiantoro said she went to the upper deck to see what was going on.

"Upstairs, the older people were panicking and there was a crying toddler. As I was walking to the back, I felt the boat tilting," she added.

"I headed to the far back where I saw three crew members using a water pump, trying to bail water."

According to her, two men whom she believed were fellow passengers were also trying to scoop out the water that was already shin-deep

Ms Soegiantoro said she returned to the lower deck to let others know that there was a leak at the back of the vessel.

Soon after, they spotted one ferry coming their way but they were told by the crew members that the water was too shallow for the rescue ferry to pick them up without risking a similar fate.

As the rescue ferry started to turn back, one of the crew members shouted for his colleague to start launching the life rafts.

Ms Soegiantoro added that the first raft was inflated for the elderly and families with children. But after about 50 people had climbed in, it started to leak and a second raft had to be launched for those in the first raft to transfer to.

Mr Kerckhoffs, who is in business transformation services, said: "Each life raft is suitable for about 25 people but so many people were just trying to get out of the ferry, so the rafts were overloaded."

A third raft was launched on the other side of the vessel.

Passenger Adilah Rahmat wrote on Facebook: "The third raft burst due to overloading. The passengers panicked because they could not feel their feet on the raft anymore. Water had come in and the base of the raft was torn, it was sinking.

"The only thing that passengers could hold on to was the rope encircling the raft.

"It also ensured that the passengers did not drift apart.

"A nearby boat came towards the third raft, trying its best to get passengers onboard."

Ms Soegiantoro and Mr Kerckhoffs, along with their friends, stayed back on the sinking ferry to ensure that everyone was safely on the life rafts before they got into the fourth raft.

Ms Soegiantoro, who was wearing a sleeveless dress, was drenched by the cold sea water as she climbed onto the raft.

She soon discovered that the raft had a small tear which she leaned against to stop water from entering it.

They floated away from the ferry in darkness for what felt like 20 minutes before a boat arrived and tried to tug their raft to shore.

The passengers aboard the raft tried to make small talk and boost the morale of the group.

The boat's motor failed twice and a bigger boat came to the rescue.

"The boat was oily, slippery and slimy but at least it was big enough to fit all of us and was stable," said Ms Soegiantoro.

When they reached the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal, they were pulled up to shore and were immediately ushered into a waiting Batamfast ferry bound for Singapore's Tanah Merah Terminal.

Ms Adilah said that when they reached Singapore, none of the officers and personnel appeared to know what had really happened.

She added: "There was no support rendered to the passengers. No personnel came forward to account for any injuries. There were no assistance in calming the passengers and ensuring them of any help.

"The authorities in Singapore were told that we were delayed as there was something wrong with the ferry and that we were safely transferred."

Batamfest: We have done our best

Two vessels were sent to assist distressed passengers on board the Sea Prince which had hit a floating object on Sunday night on its way to Singapore, said Batamfast's passenger operations manager Chua Choon Leng.

But it was risky for the larger ferries to get close to the Sea Prince.

Life rafts and sampans were then deployed to help the victims, Mr Chua added.

He said it was first alerted to the incident at 8pm.

Responding to claims by passengers that crew members hardly helped, Mr Chua said: "We had seven crew members on board - two to handle communication, two were busy pumping the water out and two to three left in action, so some might feel they weren't helping but we have done our best."

As for the life vests, he insisted that the company goes though monthly inspections to ensure that they are safe for use.

The Sea Prince is now moored at the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal and the company is investigating.

Replying to queries from The New Paper, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it was informed at the time of the incident by ferry operator Batamfast that two ferries were deployed to transfer the affected passengers in Indonesian waters.

TRANSFERRED

An MPA spokesman said: "Based on subsequent reports, the two ferries were unable to approach the vicinity of the grounded Sea Prince and the passengers were instead transferred by small boats and rafts to Nongsapura Ferry Terminal before boarding one of the ferries that was earlier deployed to take them to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal."

The spokesman added that the affected passengers have since returned to Singapore and MPA is working with the Indonesian authorities to investigate the incident.


MPA investigating 'Sea Prince' Batam ferry incident
Some affected passengers and the ferry crew members have been interviewed, says MPA.
Channel NewsAsia 2 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is investigating the ferry incident that occurred three nights ago, it said in a media release on Wednesday (Dec 2).

The Indonesia-registered ferry “Sea Prince” had hit a floating object after leaving the Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam. A total of 97 people, including 51 Singaporeans, had to be rescued.


“MPA is investigating the incident with the ferry operator, Batamfast, and the relevant Indonesian authorities,” it said in the release.

According to MPA, some affected passengers and the ferry crew members have also been interviewed. “Ensuring maritime safety is one of MPA’s key priorities. It takes a serious view of the incident and has reminded all ferry operators in Singapore of the importance of navigational safety and emergency preparedness,” it said.

Members of the public who wish to provide information on the incident can contact MPA at 6375 6217.

"EVERYBODY WAS TRAUMATISED": PASSENGER

One of the passengers on board, Ms Rosbiana Ahmad, related the ferry incident to Channel NewsAsia. "Everybody was traumatised, we didn’t want to leave that night. We wanted to wait for the next ferry, then we’ll leave," she said.

However, Ms Rosbiana said they were told it would not be possible as there were no accommodations available.

She said the first life raft from the ferry was inflated for the elderly, including Ms Rosbiana and her baby. However, the raft did not work.

The passenger said: "The moment I jumped in, the staff said they do not know the capacity of the life raft. It was about 30 of us, and even before we departed from there, it started to sink. They inflated another life raft and we managed to hang on for a bit."

While Ms Rosbiana is thankful to be rescued, she felt that the situation could have been better managed. "I’m blessed to be alive, but the problem is, we just want a definite answer (to why the ferry sunk)," she said.

- CNA/xk

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