Indonesian Ferry Catches Fire and Sinks, Causing Injury and Death

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Last Friday night, at roughly 4:00PM WITA on September 14, 2018, the wooden passenger ferry Fungka Permata V — an Indonesian vessel estimated to have been carrying 150 passengers and crew members — caught fire and sank off the coast of Banggai Laut, an island group in Sulawesi province, Indonesia.

Despite extensive search and rescue efforts in the wake of the accident, the confirmed dead are 13 (including two children) and 11 passengers are still missing of those know to be aboard. These numbers are constantly changing, as new information is available.  Like many passenger vessels traveling in Southeast Asia, Fungka Permata V was transporting  a significant number of excess passengers which were not listed on its manifest, so authorities are finding it difficult to accurately evaluate the identities (and number) of passengers aboard the ferry.

According to reports, Fungka Permata V caught fire on Friday afternoon when adequate coolant flow to the engine stopped (due to a system failure), this caused the engine to heat up and eventually burst into flames.  Regional disaster authorities received notification of the incident at 4:00PM, and rescue teams arrived on the scene an hour later to assist with evacuations.

In the wake of the accident, 114 passengers and 12 crew members were rescued, and an estimated 28 passengers suffered serious injuries.

Though we are appreciative of rescue efforts in the present case (and that 126 passengers and crew members were saved from the wreckage), the circumstances surrounding both the fire and the subsequent deaths are not only disturbing, but quite frankly, indicative of serious negligence on the part of the ferry operator.

Given the circumstances at-issue, those injured in the Fungka Permata V ferry accident — and the families of the deceased — likely have actionable claims against the vessel, operator, and owner for damages.

Ferry Operators Must Provide Safety Equipment for All Aboard

Ferry operators must make reasonable efforts to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members aboard the ship — this may involve the provision of safety equipment, proper maintenance of the ferry’s equipment, and accurate records of passenger attendance.  Ferry operators must not violate applicable safety regulations (i.e., provision of lifejackets to passengers aboard the ship), failure to do this exposes passengers and crew members to a heightened risk of injury or death.

In the present case, several issues give us reason to believe that the ferry operator is liable for negligence.

  • the passenger manifest grossly underrepresents the total number of passengers who were actually aboard the ferry, thus slowing down search and rescue efforts;
  • there were not enough lifejackets for all passengers aboard Fungka Permata V, forcing many passengers to hang onto life buoys and other floating materials that had fallen off the ship in order to avoid drowning; and
  • the water coolant error likely could have been prevented with proper inspection and maintenance efforts.

It’s likely that if the ferry operator had strictly enforced record-keeping such that the passengers aboard Fungka Permata V were accurately reflected in the manifest, and had further ensured that all passengers were provided with lifejackets, the  injuries and deaths suffered would have been minimized.

We Can Help

If you have sustained injuries while traveling aboard a passenger ferry, whether due to a serious fire-related incident or some other catastrophic damage to the vessel that causes it to sink, then you may be entitled to compensation — this is true regardless of where the incident occurred.  Ferry operators must be careful to provide adequate safety measures to passengers so that they safe evacuation and rescue is possible in the event of a fire and/or sinking scenario.  Failure to do so could give rise to significant liability.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkelman, P.A., our team of attorneys bring to bear over a century of combined experience in maritime and admiralty law.  We have a long and successful record of accomplishment securing maximum compensation for our clients in various disputes against ferry and cruise ship operators, including fire scenarios and other catastrophic events.

The ferry in the present case caught fire and sank off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia.  Despite the fact that the accident occurred in international waters, those who are injured may be entitled to significant damages. Regardless of jurisdiction, ferry operators may be held liable for the injuries caused by their negligence.

Here at Lipcon, our attorneys have extensive experience handling maritime injury claims in courtrooms worldwide.  Contact us today to speak to one of our skilled maritime lawyers for further assistance.