Ships 2

Dumai Express

Ships 3

Dumai Express

Ferry Dumai Express Sunk In Storm

By James Donahue

Some said the 147-ton island ferry Dumai Express was excessively overcrowded when a storm sank it in Indonesian waters on November 22, 2009. Twenty-nine out of nearly 300 passengers died after large waves cracked open the hull and sank the vessel off the coast of Karimun in the Malacca Strait.

Captain Johan Napitupulu said the weather was fair and there was no sign of bad weather when the vessel left Batam Island that Sunday morning on a regular trip to Dumai, Sumatra.

“The weather was fine when we left Batam port. There was no sign of rain and we also didn’t get any warning from anybody saying the weather could turn bad at sea,” Napitupulu said. “About a half an hour later the weather suddenly turned really, really bad. The waves were higher than two meters (six feet), the winds and currents were strong.”

One massive wave slammed into the starboard side of the ship, cracking the hull. Survivor Amir Azli described scenes of pandemonium as water began to pour into the vessel and the ferry rocked violently in the heavy swells.

“The ferry was sinking fast, front first,” the captain said. Within 27 minutes it was totally submerged. There was panic, everyone was screaming. He said the crew passed around life jackets and launched lifeboats. There were about 245 survivors.

The captain and 12 crew members were among the survivors.

Some passengers wearing life jackets jumped into the sea to save themselves as the ferry sank out from under them. Area fishing boats were among the first to arrive on the scene and begin pulling people from the water.

Some authorities said the vessel may have been overloaded, which they said may have been a factor in the sinking. But Captain Napitupulu denied the charge. The ship was designed with a capacity to carry 273 passengers. The total head count at the time of the sinking was estimated at 274.

It has been common practice among ferry operators to pack their decks with undocumented passengers as the many ferries shuttle people among the estimated 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago.

Corruption also has been a problem among the ferry owners. It has been common for vessels to take on cargo as well as more passengers than vessels are registered to carry.

Indonesian authorities said they planned to raise the vessel and search below deck to determine if additional people perished there. The final death count, however, did not change.