A wooden boat sank off the shore of Sulawesi island in Indonesia on Monday, leaving at least 15 people dead and 19 more missing, according to search and rescue officials.
Just after midnight local time (1700 GMT on Sunday), the boat capsized with 40 passengers aboard, according to a statement from the local branch of Indonesia’s search and rescue organization.
According to the report, six passengers were saved and sent to a hospital for treatment while the cause of the sinking was being looked into.
“Provisionally, there are 19 people who are still being searched for,” Muhamad Arafah, head of the local search and rescue agency in Kendari city in Southeast Sulawesi, said in the statement.
According to him, one search crew would use boats to scour the water’s surface while another will dive around the accident site.
The agency released pictures of rescuers assembling for the search operation and a number of dead bodies lying on tarpaulins at a nearby hospital.
The boat was traveling across a bay between the communities of Lanto and Lagili in Central Buton regency on Muna island in Southeast Sulawesi, according to Wahyudin, a spokeswoman for the local office who goes by one name like many Indonesians do.
Wahyudin claimed that, contrary to first reports, the ship was actually a wooden passenger boat.
He cautioned that there might have been more people on board than were officially listed but declined to corroborate allegations in the local media that the boat was packed.
According to Indonesian media, residents traveled for a local holiday and boarded an overcrowded boat that capsized as it crossed the bay on the way back.
Later on Monday, according to Wahyudin, the organization would provide an update on the cause and the missing passengers.
The real number of passengers on a boat in Indonesia frequently differs from the manifest.
In the almost 17,000 island nation in Southeast Asia, where marine mishaps are common, people rely on ferries and tiny boats to get around despite lax safety regulations.
On Sumatra island, a ferry capsized in one of the deepest lakes in the world in 2018, killing over 150 passengers.
A ferry carrying more than 800 people became aground in shallow water off the coast of East Nusa Tenggara province in May of last year and was not freed for two days.
There were no injuries in that collision.