JAKARTA - A boat carrying more than 100 passengers is believed to have had an accident Saturday off the coast of Indonesia's Sulawesi after encountering rough seas and dispatching a distress signal, according to an official.
Transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said there were 118 people on board the passenger ferry, including 19 children and 10 crew, when it left Kolaka in southeast Sulawesi on Saturday morning. Later in the afternoon, the vessel sent out a distress signal, claiming the ship "had an accident as a result of large waves 4 to 5 metres high", Barata said in a statement.
There was no mention of casualties, but Indonesia's search and rescue agency and navy have been notified. A local search and rescue official told AFP authorities lost contact with the ship after it encountered high waves and strong winds. However, there was no immediate indication if teams had been dispatched to the scene to locate the ferry's passengers. 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.
Meanwhile, eighteen people drowned overnight when their boat sank in the Aegean Sea as it was heading for the Greek island of Kalymnos, Turkish media reported early Saturday. Another 14 people, among them Syrians, Iraqis and Pakistanis, were pulled to safety by the Turkish coastguard, the Dogan news agency reported.
They were taken to hospital in serious condition, suffering from hypothermia, the agency said. The migrants had left the southwestern Turkish resort of Bodrum during the night on board an old vessel which capsized around two nautical miles off Turkey's coast, survivors said.
Some 650,000 migrants, often from Iraq and Syria, have tried to cross the Aegean Sea this year in search of better lives in the European Union. But an estimated 500, including many children, have died during the often perilous crossing. EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday set an end-of-June deadline to agree on a new border and coastguard force to slow the influx of migrants across the 28-nation bloc's porous external frontiers.
Leaders also urged EU ambassadors to arrange for the rapid delivery of a promised three billion euros ($3.25 billion) in aid for refugees in Turkey in return for its help in stemming the flow. Moreover, sixty-nine Kurdish militants and two Turkish soldiers have been killed in four days of fighting across southeast Turkey as security forces ramp up operations against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), security sources and the military said on Saturday.
The military said Turkish warplanes taking off from their southeastern base in Diyarbakir had also bombarded PKK camps in northern Iraq on Friday, destroying shelters and weapon posts. A two-year ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK fell apart in July, shattering peace talks and reviving a conflict that has afflicted the mainly Kurdish southeast for three decades, killing more than 40,000 people.
One Turkish soldier was killed and another was lightly wounded on Saturday in clashes in Sur district, which has remained under a police curfew for the past two weeks, in the predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir province. One of two soldiers wounded in the border town of Cizre on Friday also succumbed to his injuries, the army said.
It said the number of Kurdish militants killed in four days of operations in Cizre and Silopi, near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, had risen to 69. The towns, both under curfew, are central targets in Turkey's latest anti-PKK offensive, in which media reports say 10,000 police and troops, backed by tanks, are taking part. The head of the armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, visited troops in the region on Saturday and was briefed on the operations, security sources said.
Although traditionally rooted in the countryside, the group has shifted its focus in recent years to towns and cities in the southeast, setting up barricades and digging trenches to keep security forces away. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Kurdish militants would be "annihilated" in their trenches and houses and that the operations would continue until the area was "cleansed" of the militants and their barricades destroyed.
Peace talks between jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and the state ground to a halt early this year. The PKK is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.