Indonesian ferry passengers jump overboard amid COVID-19 fears

Passenger ferry KM Lambelu. Credit: I Meshkov/Vessel Tracker

Five passengers on an Indonesian ferry jumped overboard on 7 April 2020, after the vessel was denied entry to its destination port after three crew members displayed flu-like symptoms.

All the passengers were rescued and returned to the vessel KM Lambelu. Authorities indicated that preliminary tests for the three crew members showed positive results for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the contagious respiratory ailment that has caused a worldwide pandemic.

KM Lambelu was due to arrive in Maumere, Flores Island, having sailed from Tarakan in North Kalimantan. Indonesia is essentially a cluster of islands and ferries are a common means of transport. After hearing from port officials that the ferry could not dock, the passengers became upset and jumped into the water. The passengers were wearing life jackets at the time.

As a measure of precaution, the East Flores Regency authorities have decided to quarantine the 22 passengers on KM Lambelu. These passengers will be transported by bus to quarantine centres. Previously, 786 passengers had disembarked from KM Lambelu in Baubau. Those passengers would also need to be monitored.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesia is now the second worst-hit country in Southeast Asia, with President Joko Widodo declaring a public health emergency on 31 March. There are nearly 2,500 infections in Indonesia and just over 200 deaths as of 7 April.

Roni Muhtar, chairman of the Baubau City COVID-19 Task Force, said that he had discussions with the management of KM Lambelu owner PT Pelni, the national domestic cargo and passenger carrier, regarding the alleged non-disclosure of the sick crew members’ condition.

Muhtar indicated that all vessel arrivals in Baubau would need to be supervised to prevent the spread of COVID-19.