Indonesian ferry engine room fire kills seven

The charred remains of the ferry that caught fire in Indonesia. Credit: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

An engine room fire on board a ferry sailing between a port in Kendari, Indonesia, and a port in Kaleroang in the nearby Central Sulawesi province has claimed the lives of seven people.

The incident took place off Bokori Island in the Konawe district shortly after midnight local time on 17 August.

Yusuf Latief, head of communications for media at the Indonesian national search and rescue office, told local media that the cause of the fire was not clear and an investigation will be conducted.

However, local police suspect that the fire was triggered when the ship’s diesel tank exploded. Local police spokesperson Harry Goldenhard alleges in an official statement that sparks in the engine were observed and that the fire then spread quickly to other parts of the ferry.

According to Latief, the crew of the KM Izhar tried to extinguish the engine room fire but failed as the fire grew. The fire was eventually extinguished by another ship and 61 people were rescued by local sailors. Seven people, including two children aged two and four, were killed and four others have been reported as missing.

The ferry’s passenger manifest confirms that 50 passengers were recorded as being on board. However, the total number of passengers rescued, deceased, or missing at sea totals more than 70.

Indonesia is an archipelago nation of more than 17,000 islands, where many locals use ferries and other boats for inter-island travel despite poor safety standards. Ferry operators often sell illegal tickets, exceeding the allowed capacity.

This incident is the latest in a busy year for fire outbreaks on board vessels and the second to take place in Indonesian waters, which is a growing concern for the industry and SAS in particular. Earlier in the year, classification societies called for further attention to be paid to the prevention of fires and training on how to deal with them.