Panic grips passengers as life rafts take in water

When their ferry was hit by an object, they escaped onto life rafts, only to feel their hearts sink when water started to seep in.

Ms Chella Ho, 29, a quantity estimator, said the life raft she was on went underneath the water surface at one point, with water reaching up to her neck. She was kept afloat by her life vest.

"People were shouting: 'It's sinking! It's sinking!'" she added.

Another passenger, who wanted to be identified only as Mr Ong, said two of the three life rafts sank.

"Everyone on board the raft was panicking and fighting to get off the sinking raft and onto a sampan," said Mr Ong, who had gone with friends to Batam and was on his way back to Singapore. There were young children on the rafts, he added.

"The remaining passengers on board the ferry tried to shout and calm down those in the waters, asking them not to panic. The scene was chaotic," he said.

About 100 passengers were on their way to Singapore from Batam on Sunday night when the Sea Prince ferry was hit by a floating object.

They put on life vests and got off the ferry onto life rafts, which were supposed to take them to the ferry terminal in Batam.

Instead, passengers had to wait for 20 minutes to more than an hour to be transferred to the terminal in bumboats operated by local villagers.

When contacted, the general manager of Batamfast, the ferry operator, said that two of the life rafts are now parked at the Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam .

The general manager, who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, said the two rafts were not damaged.

Passengers The Straits Times spoke to said the situation could have been better handled with clearer and more timely updates.

Asked about this, Mr Chua said: "Of course, it could have been improved, but I believe our crew tried their best."

He added that the company is also investigating the incident and is liaising with an insurance company to work out compensation for passengers.


This article was first published on December 1, 2015.
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