500 refugees die in ferry sinking

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The Independent Online

As many as 500 Christian refugees fleeing the escalating ethnic conflict in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia were feared dead last night after their overloaded ferry sank in treacherous seas.

As many as 500 Christian refugees fleeing the escalating ethnic conflict in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia were feared dead last night after their overloaded ferry sank in treacherous seas.

Indonesian officials said the wooden-hulled ship, Cahaya Bahari, made a distress call in stormy weather, which was hampering rescue operations. Radio contact was lost after the captain reported that his vessel, which left the port of Tobelo on the island of Halmahera on Wednesday, was taking on water.

"We are afraid many people have died," said Ering Musa of the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency. Two search and rescue ships were in the disaster area. Of those aboard, 290 were refugees from Duma, a Christian village where more than 100 people were killed in an attack by Muslim fighters on 19 June. The boat was only licensed to carry 250 passengers.

Halmahera lies in the northern part of the Moluccas, where clashes between Muslims and Christians have claimed thousands of lives.

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