Indonesia boat fire: Captain Muhammad Nali arrested, search continues

The boat was carrying about 250 local holidaymakers to celebrate the New Year on the nearby resort island of Tidung.

Indonesia ferry blast kills two, injures 13
Rescue team members and soldiers carry the body of a victim Reuters (Representational Image)

Indonesian police said on Monday they detained the captain of a tourist boat which burst into flames killing 23 people and injuring 50. There were reports that the captain was the first to jump from the ship, abandoning the tourists as the fire erupted.

Ferry Budiharso, a spokesman for the Thousand Island police, said the fire fighters were informed about the incident at around 8.45 am. The boat, Zahro Express, was carrying about 250 local holidaymakers to celebrate the New Year on the nearby resort island of Tidung.

But shortly after the boat left the Muara Angke port in North Jakarta, it caught fire. The national disaster agency said the passengers panicked and jumped into the sea as flames and smoke rapidly engulfed the boat.

The police said the captain, who has been named as Muhammad Nali in local reports, had been detained on Sunday. He was being questioned over suspected negligence in relation to the fire that reduced the boat to a blackened wreck.

"We are still investigating the case and questioning the captain," Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told AFP. However, he did not disclose any further details.

According to Budiharso, the accident was caused due to a short circuit on a power generator on the boat. The Transport Ministry confirmed that the blaze started with an explosion in the engine room.

"Fifteen minutes after the boat set sail, people at the back of the boat started making noise," Evi, a female passenger, who gave only one name, told local station Metro TV.

"Then I saw smoke, there was more and more, the boat was crowded and people were fighting for life jackets," she added.

The head of Jakarta's search and rescue agency, Hendra Sudirman, told Reuters that 194 people had been rescued. The fishermen rescued many of the passengers, all of whom were believed to be Indonesians, to safety and firefighting boats were deployed to put out the blaze.

Boat accidents are quite frequent in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago. There are often compalins regarding overloaded vessels and having too few life jackets on boat.

In September 2016, a similar accident occurred when a tourist boat exploded on the resort island of Bali, killing two foreigners and injuring about 20 others.