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About 180 survivors found off Indonesia

400 still missing in ferry disaster

More than a dozen survivors of a ferry accident drifted yesterday in the sea off Rembang, Indonesia . Rescuers in boats were pulling survivors and bodies from the water. (Rendra Prandana/Associated Press)

SEMARANG, Indonesia -- Rescue boats picked up scores of exhausted survivors yesterday from an Indonesian ferry that sank in the Java Sea, but they also recovered dozens of bodies, and about 400 people remained missing.

A fleet of navy ships, fishing vessels, and aircraft has been scouring a large section of the central Indonesian coastline since the Senopati Nusantara capsized around midnight Friday after being pounded by heavy waves for 10 hours.

By yesterday, authorities had found about 180 survivors, either clinging to pieces of wood, packed into life rafts, or on beaches after swimming ashore, the state news agency Antara quoted a transport department official named Soeharto as saying.

At least 66 bodies also had been found, said Soeharto, who goes by one name, like many Indonesians.

Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said at least 157 survivors had been found. It was not immediately possible to explain the discrepancy, though Indonesian government agencies and officials often give differing death tolls during disasters because of poor communication and coordination.

A helicopter dropped food and water to a group of around 30 survivors in three rafts to keep them alive while boats attempted to reach them, Radjasa said.

Survivors recounted the horror of the ship's last minutes, when the crew told passengers, many of them praying or screaming, to put on life vests. Shaking violently, the vessel veered to one side before being swamped by high waves.

"The wave was so high, and the ship's crew told us not to panic," Bekti Riwayati told Associated Press Television News. "But we were panicked, and the ship went down. It took two hours to sink."

Indonesia's tropical waters are warm -- ranging from 72 to 84 degrees -- and people have been known to survive for days at sea.

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