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Monday, November 23, 2009

Indonesian ferry disaster

The Indonesian ferry boat sinking disaster yesterday is now world wide news as typified by this AFP report:

TANJUNG BALAI, Indonesia — The captain of an Indonesian ferry which sank killing 29 people rejected claims of overcrowding Monday and blamed a freak storm for the disaster, as officials launched an investigation.

The search for survivors from the Dumai Express resumed for a second day off Karimun island, near Singapore, amid fears scores of people could be lost at sea or trapped in the wreck at the bottom of the Malacca Strait.

With the official toll standing at 29 dead and 250 rescued, officials arrived at Karimun to try to piece together what caused the latest in a litany of ferry disasters in Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands.

The 147-tonne vessel's capacity was 273 passengers and crew, but local police said more than 400 people could have been on board. Two survivors told AFP its decks were packed with undocumented passengers.

Here's the ferry captain's contention:
Captain Johan Napitupulu rejected the allegations and said he had no warning he was sailing into a massive storm when he left Batam island on Sunday morning.

"The weather was fine when we left Batam port. There was no sign of rain and we also didn't get any warning from anybody saying the weather could turn bad at sea," he told AFP.

"About half an hour later the weather suddenly turned really, really bad. The waves were higher than two metres (six feet), the winds and currents were strong."

The captain said the crew had done all it could to arrange lifeboats and life-jackets for the terrified passengers.

"The ferry was sinking fast, front first. Within 27 minutes it was totally submerged... There was panic, everyone was screaming," Napitupulu said.

The word "freaque", representing either freak or rogue, to a large extent implies some happening that's basically unexpected. The captain is not first one to blame the disaster on a freaque storm -- which means that the storm was unexpected. Now I can be persuaded that a wave comes up unexpectedly, but an unexpected storm is a little far fetched for me. It may not be predicted by the weather people, but a quick storm comes up quickly in the open ocean is something to be expected for the alert sailors if they kept an eye on the air when they are out there. Isn't keeping an eye on the air and weather the job of the ferry boat captain?

Expect the unexpected should be an axiom for everyone especially sailors. Some one has called freaque waves as unexpected waves recently. I think that could be a misnomer. Unexpected things always happen. I have began to feel that freaque waves should be "expected waves" rather than "unexpected waves". Because when one treats it as expected, then one would always be alert and prepared for its occurrence. I have recently noticed some discussion on "unexpectedness" which seems to be some new thinking into the rare occurring cases. I did not see any actual numbers yet, but it appears to me intuitively that unexpectedness must be a very large number. Only the expectedness (probably there is no such word yet) can be correlated with the general conceptual basis of rare occurrence. Freaque waves, and freaque storms for that matter, are expected albeit with very small "expectedness"!

1 comment:

Ben said...

I like that thinking. The more possible events that you're aware of the more you can prepare your self to confront them.

Personally I enjoy thinking through possible senarios, what would I do if I got swamped, got caught in an electric storm, how I would manage a sustained blow. It's all part of being prepared.

It does seem a feeble excuse for a ferry boat captain

Ben