Indonesian Ferry Sinks, Nearly 200 Missing or Dead

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Earlier this week, on Monday, June 18 at roughly 5:30PM WIB, a tourist ferry — known as Sinar Bangun — encountered severe weather conditions and sank about a mile from the port of Tigaras on Lake Toba. According to reports, the vessel was traveling with passengers that boarded at the highly touristic Samosir Island at the center of the lake, when it suddenly came upon three-meter high waves that rocked Sinar Bangun from side-to-side until it overturned and sank.

Of the nearly 200 passengers estimated to have been aboard the ferry, 3 are confirmed casualties, 18 were rescued and the remainder are still missing and are feared dead, given the length of time that has elapsed since the sinking incident. In fact, Wanda Ketaren, a disaster relief official, noted that government efforts have now largely switched to recovery, as opposed to search and rescue.

We are shocked and saddened by the news of this unfortunate catastrophe and we hope that the family of the deceased can with time come to grips with their loss. We also hope that this terrible events will — at the very least — lead to significant improvements in Indonesia’s maritime safety infrastructure.

Given the facts of the present case, it appears that the family members of the deceased may be entitled to bring a claim against the ferry operator (and other liable parties) for damages.

Vessels Must Not Exceed Capacity and Must Provide Adequate Safety Equipment

Though Lake Toba — a volcanic lake, and the largest in Indonesia — is a popular tourist attraction for both domestic and international travelers, its infrastructure lags behind many other tourism-heavy areas in the Southeast Asia region, such as Bali. As such, rescue efforts were haphazard at-best. With a lack of official rescue personnel on-hand, nearby ferries took on the task of immediate search and rescue efforts.

The facts speak to significant negligence by the ferry operator (but also implicating other potential parties). Sinar Bangun capacity was roughly one-third of the total passengers that were actually on-board the vessel at the time of the sinking accident. Further, there were not enough lifejackets for passengers — in clear violation of Indonesian regulations. Without lifejackets, passengers who could not swim had two horrifying options: remain on the vessel and hope that it stays afloat somehow, or jump into the water without any swimming ability and likely drown.

Passengers on the inside of the ferry also found themselves unable to break the glass and escape. The unusual depth of Lake Toba (considered among the deepest lakes in the world) meant that the pressure made it increasingly difficult for passengers inside the ferry to move into a position where they could swim away.

Cruise ship and ferry operators must ensure that their vessels have necessary safety equipment and that its maintenance is adequate. This terrible accident was avoidable had various parties’ exercised reasonable care in operating the ferry service. Had the operator of Sinar Bangun adhered to the ferry’s passenger capacity, it is likely; its overturning during poor weather conditions was avoidable. Further, had there been lifejackets on the ferry for all on board, passengers who could not swim would have had an opportunity to jump into the water and avoid sinking with the vessel.

It appears that public agencies may have been at-fault, too. That the ferry operated for so long as it has without enforcement of established safety regulations is indicative of negligence on the part of the Indonesian government. Family members who have lost loved ones in this Lake Toba ferry incident will almost certainly have legitimate claims to bring against the ferry operator and public parties whose negligence enabled the operator to conduct business despite being so flagrantly in violation of safety regulations.

We Can Help

If your loved one has suffered injuries — fatal or otherwise — in a cruise or ferry accident such as the Lake Toba sinking incident at-issue in the present case, then you may be entitled to sue and recover damages as compensation for your various losses.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our maritime and admiralty lawyers have over a century of combined experience litigating ship disaster claims on behalf of passengers and their families. We are familiar with the challenges typical of claims brought against hostile ship operators, and we understand how best to approach litigation to ensure taximum compensation is secured.

Though our offices are located in Florida, we have experience handling injury and wrongful death claims that arise in other jurisdictions of the United States (and abroad). Our record of accomplished successful case verdicts and settlements include cases litigated in courtrooms worldwide.

Interested in learning more about your claims? We encourage you to contact a skilled maritime lawyer at our firm for further assistance.