The captain of an Indonesian ferry that sank off Sulawesi island last week, leaving hundreds missing, has been named a suspect for possible negligence causing loss of life, police said on Monday.
The ferry, which had 250 passengers and 17 crew according to the manifest, was travelling from Pare-pare on the west coast of Sulawesi to Samarinda city on Indonesia's side of Borneo island when it ran into heavy seas.
Rescue officials have found only 35 survivors, including the captain, and nine bodies more than a week after the disaster.
"We made Sabir (the captain) a suspect yesterday for negligence that caused loss of lives," said Heri Sabiansauri, a spokesman for the South Sulawesi police.
Negligence leading to a loss of life can carry a maximum jail sentence of five years, according to Indonesia's penal code.
Sabir, who goes by one name, is currently in police custody.
Police usually classify a person a suspect in Indonesia before prosecutors may lay formal charges.
Transport Minister Jusman Syafi'i Djamal said last week that a preliminary investigation showed the ferry capsized after it was hit by waves, but there would be an investigation into why the captain set sail despite warnings about bad weather.
Officials have denied the ferry was overloaded, but have said there were indications it had more people on board than the 267 in the manifest.
Kunto Prayogo, the head investigator for the National Transport Safety Committee, said it would probe whether possible overloading of passengers could have contributed to the disaster.
Sabiansauri said South Sulawesi police believed there may be have been up to 137 additional people on board not included in the manifest.
Police also said they were questioning additional people, including the port administration, to see if they had any involvement in the disaster.
The search for the missing would be extended until Tuesday, said Teddy Sutedjo, director of operations and training at the national search and rescue agency.
Most survivors were found by fishing boats, often clinging to flotsam in the sea.
Ferries are vital in the world's fourth-most populous country, which has more than 17,000 islands spanning a distance of 5,000 km, the equivalent of going from Ireland to Iran.
But accidents are common largely because of under-investment in infrastructure and a tendency to overload the boats.
Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2009, 15:53