Indonesian Passenger Ferry Fire Kills 16

At least 16 people were killed when a fire broke out overnight on an Indonesian ferry with more than 400 people on board, the transport ministry said Friday.

The ferry caught fire in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra, about three kilometers (two miles) from the port of Merak at the westernmost tip of Java, at around 3:30 am.

"16 people have been killed, and 427 people have survived. We don't know how many people are missing, hopefully there are none," Transport Ministry director for maritime passenger services Wiratno, who goes by one name, said.

"The fire has gone and the ferry is now located at the coast of Anyer beach nearby."

The survivors jumped into the sea wearing life jackets and were picked up by boats, he added. Many of them were transferred to a hospital in Cilegon on Java for treatment.

Truck driver Musaka, who was a passenger on the ferry, said the fire came from the vehicle area.

"It's very scary when the fire started as it was still very dark. A passenger bus on the vehicle area caught fire first, and my truck also burned," he said.

"I was able to save myself as I could grab a life jacket. I quickly jumped off to the sea."

A female passenger, Lusi, said that she was still looking for her lost son.

"I'm still trying to find my five-year old son. Hopefully he's already in a safe place as the officials told me that he could be in the hospital," she said.

Lusi, who was heading from Jakarta to reach her home in South Sumatra province, traveled only with her son.

Television footage on Friday showed thick smoke shooting from the ferry, but officials in Merak said it was not going to sink. The vessel was due to arrive at the Bakauheni, the main port on the southern most tip of Sumatra.

The Indonesian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands is heavily dependent on ferry services but the industry has a poor safety record and fatal accidents are common.

Up to 335 people were killed when a heavily overloaded ferry sank off the island of Sulawesi in January 2009.