Ten survivors confirm refugee ferry sank with 500 on board

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The Independent Online

After three days of agonising rumours, the fate of a missing Indonesian ferry was finally confirmed yesterday when 10 of its passengers were found floating in the sea, clinging to pieces of the ship's wreckage.

After three days of agonising rumours, the fate of a missing Indonesian ferry was finally confirmed yesterday when 10 of its passengers were found floating in the sea, clinging to pieces of the ship's wreckage.

The survivors, who were found north-east of Sulawesi island, confirmed that the heavily overloaded Cahaya Bahari (Light of the Ocean) had sunk in heavy seas after taking in water on Thursday. The ship, which was built to carry 200 passengers, had almost 500 people on board, most of them Christian refugees from the savage religious violence in the Moluccas, as the former Spice Islands are now known.

All weekend hundreds of desperate relatives gathered in the Sulawesi port of Manado, where the boat had been bound from the island of Halmahera. On Saturday, their hopes were raised by rumours that the boat had been washed ashore, or even hijacked by Muslim terrorists. It is clear now that those reports were false and that the other 480 passengers and crew have almost certainly drowned.

The search for survivors was extended after yesterday's rescue, but the missing ship was inadequately equipped with lifebelts and maritime authorities were holding out little hope that anyone else could have survived more than three days in the open sea. The six males and four females, aged between 12 and 29, were found by a fishing boat, supported by life jackets and floating debris close to the island of Karakelong, 120 miles north-east of Manado.

They were suffering from sun stroke, dehydration and exhaustion after drifting 60 miles from the point at which the Cahaya Bahari's captain had reported severe weather just before losing radio contact. One of the survivors, an 18-year old woman named Orpa Matayani, said that the ship was inundated during the storm, and that it sank after the hold filled with sea water. A body was pulled from the water with the surviving 10, who had clung to one another for support.

For many of the passengers the disaster was the final cruel stroke of fate after a fortnight of unspeakable terror. Most of the extra passengers were from the Christian village of Duma on Halmahera's north coast which was attacked two weeks ago by hundreds of well-armed Muslim militia men from the Islamic part of the island.

As many as 150 people - men, women and children - were massacred by the raiders, who also destroyed the village church and hundreds of houses. It was the single worst act of violence in 18 months of sectarian atrocities by both Muslims and Christians. About 30 of the injured were on the Cahaya Bahari when the ferry went down.

In Rome, the Pope expressed his grief and made his second appeal for peace in the Moluccas. "I express deep pain for the victims while I pray the Lord to concede them the eternal prize, and I invoke with all my might peace and security in those islands tormented by violence," he said.

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