SINGAPORE - A number of passengers who were on board the "Sea Prince" ferry that hit a floating object while en route to Singapore from Batam have taken to social media, claiming that the rescue process had been dangerous and disorganised.
One passenger who was on the ferry, Adilah Rahmat, claimed that during the evacuation process, one of the life rafts that had been inflated had a leak, while another burst due to overcrowding.
In a lengthy Facebook post which recounted the incident in detail, she also claimed that the ferry had hit more than one object, and that two passengers had to offer their assistance when the engine room started filling up with water.
"During this time, no updates were given to the passengers from any crew members or the captain of the vessel," she recalled. She added that it was the passengers who took the initiative to get others to put on their life jackets, and that it was a passenger who went around to ensure that the lift jackets were properly secured.
Eventually, the ferry's captain told the passengers on board that a ship that had been deployed could not draw near to the ferry due to the shallow waters, and that life rafts would be used for the evacuation. Ms Adilah said that three rafts were inflated, and the passengers agreed to allow the elderly and children to be brought to safety first.
"Just as there were about 20 odd people on the first raft, someone realised that there was a leak in the raft. Air was released due to a hole in the raft. A second raft had to be opened to save the others."
A third raft was also inflated to help evacuate more passengers. "Unfortunately, the third raft burst due to overloading capacity. The passengers on the third raft panicked because they could not feel their feet on the raft anymore. Water had come in and the base of the raft was torn apart and was sinking," Ms Adilah recounted in her post, adding that passengers had to hold onto a rope encircling the raft.
Two small boats then approached the burst raft to help the passengers who were in the water, and they were all transferred into one of the boats after about 30 to 40 minutes.
But the passengers' troubles were not over yet, according to Ms Adilah, as passengers on board the second life raft then began shouting that their raft was sinking with water starting to enter.
"The boat and small boat then made its way to the second raft and transferred everyone into the boat," she said. The boats then made their way back to the Nongsapura Ferry Terminal.
The problems continued after the group returned to the Nongsapura Terminal. They were quickly ushered into another ferry, but a passenger then realised that there had not been any indication if all passengers had been accounted for.
They soon realised that two people who had been on the grounded ferry, an Indonesian and a Canadian, were missing. They were only later informed that the two had left the group.
"While this was going on, there were no updates as to where or what was the next step. No one from the authority addressed the issue to us. No one asked about our well-being," Ms Adilah said.
Back in Singapore, the passengers were further outraged when they realised that Singaporean authorities had been told that they had been safely transferred.
Ms Adilah said that the passengers, who were distressed and traumatised, were not given any explanations, and were only told by the police to go home and to lodge a complaint the following day.
"We were also told by Batamfast 'to send an email if there's any question'. We had to tell the personnel from Batamfast to get our particulars pertaining to any claims we may have and queries about the aftermath," she added.
Ms Adilah concluded her post by saying that she hoped the incident would help MPA and other agencies relook their standard operating procedures for emergencies.
She acknowledged that the crew of the ferry had done their best to ensure that the passengers were safe, but stressed that "it was really clear that there were no SOPs during an emergency".
"We are not here to get sympathy. We just want answers. It's our every right to know what had really happened to us."
Ms Adilah's post on Facebook was shared by a number of others, who corroborated her version of events. One passenger who shared the post, Mr Chella Ho, described the incident as a "traumatic experience".
Another, Mr Edmund Seah, shared the post with the status: "I am lucky. I got my life back."
In a statement on Sunday (Nov 29), the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said that all 97 passengers on board the ferry had been safely rescued.
An MPA spokesperson added that it was informed by the ferry's operator, Batamfast, that two ferries it had deployed to transfer the passengers had been unable to approach the vicinity of the grounded ferry.