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Indonesia Calls Off Operation to Retrieve Ferry Victims in Lake Toba

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JAKARTA – Indonesia on Tuesday ended a search of one of the world’s deepest lakes for the bodies of dozens of victims of a ferry sinking two weeks ago.

The head of North Sumatra province’s Search and Rescue agency, Budiawan, said the decision was made after “intense” discussions with the families of victims.

The end of the search operation at Lake Toba was marked with prayers and a groundbreaking ceremony for a monument that would be inscribed with the names of victims. Weeping relatives cast flowers into the lake.

The wooden ferry, five times above its passenger limit and also carrying dozens of motorcycles, sank in the volcanic crater lake on Sumatra in rough weather on June 18.

The full scale of the tragedy took days to unfold as the boat didn’t have a passenger manifest. Officials at one point said more than 190 people were missing. Their official toll Tuesday was 21 survivors including the boat’s captain, 3 bodies found and 164 people missing, presumed drowned.

Sonar has pinpointed the ferry at a depth of 450 meters (1,476 feet). A remotely operated underwater vehicle last week captured images of bodies and motorcycles on the lake bed.

Police in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, said they’re finalizing criminal charges against five people including the captain and 4 transportation officials.

“They knew the capacity of the ferry Sinar Bangun was only about 40,” North Sumatra police chief Paulus Waterpau said Monday. “Moreover, as a wooden boat it should not have been allowed to carry motorcycles,” he said.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame. The Lake Toba sinking was the worst in about a decade.

By ALi Kotarumalos
The Associated Press