02/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Indonesia's Ferry Disaster: Sadly, It's No Surprise

JAKARTA -- In a country of 17,000 islands, everyone and everything travels by ferry.

Indonesians will wait for hours to board notoriously unreliable ferries, which won't leave until they are at capacity, or often far above capactiy. Ferry operators, skilled at packing, allow aboard as many people, cars, motorbikes, buses and trucks as they can fit before finally departing.

On the busy ferry that runs between the islands of Java and Sumatra, the people too late to find an empty spot on the floor of the cabin must stay in their cars, which are lined up so tightly that they are often unable to open their doors. At the rear of the ship it is the motorbikes, which by themselves are often carrying several people, or an entire family, that are the last to board.

It is in such circumstances, which authorities here admit are all too common, that accidents happen. Indonesia, two-thirds of which is water, is a seafaring nation and long ferry trips are as normal as taking the bus across town. As such, harbormasters and boat companies are all too comfortable leaving port in dangerous weather.

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