We reached Nongsapura Ferry Terminal at about 5.45 p.m. The ferry was due to depart at 6.10 p.m. By 6.00 p.m., everyone was already queuing up at the departure gate. We entered the departure gate and we were waiting to board the ferry. The personnel at the ferry terminal told us to wait. No one informed us that there was a delay. We waited until about 6.30 p.m. before all of us boarded the ferry. We realised that we were taking the SeaPrince ferry instead of BatamFast. We had our doubts. We did not know if SeaPrince was an outsourced ferry under BatamFast.
We then depart for Singapore at about 6.40 p.m. 10 to 15 minutes after departure from Nongsapura Ferry Terminal, we heard a very loud sound, followed by the sound of scrapping of the bottom of the ferry. Most of the passengers were puzzled by the sound. All of us on board the ferry knew that it had hit something, presumably coral reefs as it was low tide. Later after the incident, we were told that we were travelling on shallow water. The engine halted. The captain then revived the engine and made a reverse. Then, we continued to Singapore. The ferry picked up speed and eventually hit another object about 2 minutes later. At this juncture, everyone started panicking.
All the crew on board the ship made their way to the rear of the vessel. No one updated the passengers on anything. Two passengers, with engineering background offered their assistance when they saw that the engine room was starting to be filled up with water. Both believed that the lower compartment of the vessel was leaking. Water level in the compartment could be seen rising as the second ticks by. By then, I went behind to check out what had happened and to do crowd control. I saw the two passengers as well as three other crew members trying to revive a portable transfer pump. They were trying to pump out the water from the lower compartment. By this time, the vessel was already heavy on the rear side.
They had only one transfer pump to transfer the water out from the vessel. The pump was not in a good working condition. It stopped a few times and needed time to get it back to work. They tried reviving the pump over and over again. During this time, no updates were given to the passengers from any crew members or the captain of the vessel. At this juncture, I was told by the two passengers to get everyone to wear their life jackets and to stay calm and sit. Everyone followed but had difficulties wearing the life jackets on. There weren’t any instructions of how to wear the lifejackets. Most of them were not wearing it properly. One of the passengers who helped to start the pump with another passenger, went into the cabin and inspected everyone’s life jackets. He made sure that they were properly secured. By then, the boat was already heavy on the tail end. There were no official updates from the Captain. All the crew members were seen to be at the rear of the vessel.
Everyone started panicking when smell of smoke was very apparent. Meanwhile, the crew and two passengers continued to try and revive the pump. One of them asked the crew members what was the next action to be taken. All of them looked at one another but none could answer. Since there was no response, he then went up to the upper deck to talk to the captain. He knocked on the door which was locked. After a couple hard knocks, the Captain opened the door. The passenger then asked the Captain what was happening. He asked the Captain of the SOP and asked about the rescue plan. The passenger asked the Captain if there were any rescue ship that was deployed. The Captain said that there was a ship that was deployed but could not draw near to our vessel due to shallow waters. The passenger then was told by the Captain that the life rafts would be lowered down to help in the evacuation plan. Captain told him there were 4 rafts that could be used. By this time, many passengers had already made calls to their relatives or any form of authority in Singapore to inform what had happened and the severity of the case.
In total, three rafts were inflated. Before passengers started to be transferred to the rafts, the same passenger asked whether the raft was safe to be used. He also asked about the maximum capacity of the rafts. One of the crew members told him that it was safe and it could carry at least 40 people. Later on, we were informed that it could hold 65 people. Evacuation process then started. The first raft was inflated and passengers allowed the elderly as well as children to be brought to safety first. Just as there were about 20 odd people on the first raft, someone realised that there was a leak in the raft. Air was released due to a hole in the raft. A second raft had to be opened to save the others.
By now, a third raft was also inflated on the other side of the vessel, to help passengers on the other side to get to safety. A passenger who was already on the third raft repeatedly asked the crew members what was the maximum capacity. She was given 4 different answers. 30, 45, 55 and 65. Unfortunately, the third raft burst due to overloading capacity. The passengers on the third raft panicked because they could not feel their feet on the raft anymore. Water had come in and the base of the raft was torn apart and was sinking. The only thing that passengers could hold on to was the rope encircling around the raft. That also ensures that they were not drifted apart. Everyone was contained in that circle. By this time, the second raft has drifted about 200m away from the ferry. A nearby boat came towards the third raft, trying its best to get passengers into it. Another small boat came in towards the third raft from the side to help as well. The crew members of the vessel jumped into the water to make sure everyone was transferred into the boat. They risked their lives to ensure the safety of all the passengers. After about 30-40 minutes, all the passengers on the third raft were safely transferred to the boat. Fellow passengers rendered their assistance in making sure everyone was safe. A passenger nearly had his head knocked in between the raft and the ferry due to the incoming wave. We heard people shouting from the second raft informing us that their raft were sinking and water has started coming in.
The boat and small boat then made its way to the second raft and transferred everyone into the boat. We then made our way back to Nongsapura Terminal after the fishermen were being told by a passenger. The boat men did not know where to go as they were just outsiders who happened to be around the area. The crew members stayed back to help with the first raft. At this point, the first raft was already towed by another small boat. The engine of the boat stalled a couple of times before it revived back and slowly pulled them back to Nongsapura terminal. The passengers saw the Captain of SeaPrince throwing out (vomit). The boat went back to rendered assistance to the first raft and transferred everyone to safety. They then made their way to Nongsapura Terminal. All the crew members stayed on, on SeaPrince.
Upon arrival, everyone was ushered into another BatamFast ferry. Once everyone was in that ferry, a passenger realised that there wasn’t any indication if we were accounted for. He then verbally asked if everyone was in. Then he went to one personnel, Tini, at Nongsapura Terminal and asked if everyone was accounted for. He asked her for a copy of the manifest so that he could check that everyone was in. To his dismay, he was given the manifest, indicating that, indeed we were not accounted for. He looked at the manifest and it stated that there were 97 passengers. He, with the help of another passenger, went around making sure everyone was safe. To his horror, there were only 95 on board. He asked another passenger to check again in case he had missed out anyone. That passenger went around and asked for those two (2) missing ones. She was told that one of them was an Indonesian and had left to go back to Batam. The other, a Canadian, was still not accounted for. She then went back to the other passenger to report. He took the manifest and went to Tini and updated her. He repeatedly told her that we were short of one passenger. Tini is the liaison officer in Batam for BatamFast.
While this was going on, there were no updates as to where or what was the next step. No one from the authority addressed the issue to us. No one asked about our well-being. There were passengers who were traumatised and did not want to stay in the ferry after the incident. A passenger talked to Tini and asked her if it is possible to allow us to sit in the terminal instead. She insisted on saying no and said that the terminal was close. The passenger then asked if there was any way we could be put up in a hotel for the night. Tini said that there weren’t any accommodation that they could offer us.
In the midst of all this, Tini had already made a decision to ferry us back to Singapore without our knowledge, let alone, approval. The ferry then started to set sail towards Singapore. Just as it was about to move, the passenger with the manifest asked the crew on board the ship to open the side door to ask Tini the whereabouts of the Canadian. Only then, they informed that the Canadian had left. The door was closed and we continued our journey to Singapore.
Before departing, the passenger with the manifest asked Tini about the procedures and follow up. She assured us that Singapore Authority was informed and that they were waiting for us. She affirmed us that a BatamFast personnel from Singapore is there to assist us.
Upon reaching Singapore, none of the officers and personnel knew what had really happened. There was no support rendered to the passengers. Three SCDF could be seen but none approached the passengers although they saw us in that very frail condition. No personnel came forward to account for any casualties or injuries. There were no assistance in calming the passengers and ensuring them of any help. The passengers had to calm one another down.
The authorities in Singapore were told that we were delayed as there were something wrong with the ferry and that we were safely transferred. Knowing this, we were outraged. We were promised that the counterpart in Singapore was well informed by the counterpart in Batam. Passengers were full of angst and demanded an explanation. A spokesman for BatamFast could not answer our queries and even made matter worst when we were told there will be a shuttle bus to take us to Bedok interchange and we could leave to go home from there. Most of us, whom were in distress, traumatised and also helpless, were not given any proper debrief or whatsoever. We were told by the police “to go home and have a good night rest” and come back tomorrow morning to NPC to lodge a complaint/ make a report. No one cared to know the severity of the case. We were also told by BatamFast “to send an email if there’s any question”. We had to tell the personnel from BatamFast to get our particulars pertaining to any claims we may have and queries about the after math.
As I recalled what happened last night and earlier this morning, I am still very much affected by what had happened. Mishap happens, I truly understand that. But how we deal with it, is my next question.
We were repeatedly told by Singaporean counterpart that because we were in Indonesian water, there was nothing they could do about it. That, I have no way to fight, although I think in an emergency, those are very unacceptable. Coming back to my point, the SOPs and RAMs weren’t clear when we talk about an emergency. No one knew what to do from the BatamFast side. Upon reaching Singapore, they told us to go home and email them if there are any questions, was just utter insulting. Do our lives mean nothing to you? The situation could have been handled way better.
As for the police force, we understand you were not given the full story of what had happened. But between the time we were there and explaining all this, the time lapse might have been close to three hours, yet nothing was done. We reached at about 12.45 a.m., but nothing was done until about 3 a.m. We were repeatedly asked to go home and lodge a report at the nearest NPC.
We demanded to meet the BatamFast in charge which was Mr Chua who was busy getting passengers who have lost their passports to get immigration clearance. We were also informed that he was from JB, Malaysia. We talked to Mr Chua and asked him what was conveyed to him about the incident. He told us that he was updated regularly by the counterpart in Batam and that everything was “alright”. He had no idea what the passengers went through just to stay alive today. Every detail that was given to him by his counterpart in Batam did not tally with what had really happened. He was given a very simple update about the incident. He did not probe them any further about the safety of the passengers.
While we were talking to Mr Chua and asking him about the SOPs that he had in case of an emergency, personnel from MPA arrived and took over. They were more professional in dealing it and suggested for us to follow them to a meeting room where they took our statements and asked us to recount what had happened.
We recounted whatever that had happened which was still very fresh in our minds. Our statements were taken and they are in the midst investigation. In the meantime, the time was already closed to 6am. Most of the passengers had left. BatamFast still could not answer my queries.
As a survivor, I hope this incident will help the MPA as well as other agency to relook at their SOPs. It is really a matter of life and death. In all fairness, the crew of SeaPrince and the fishermen around the vessel, did their utmost best to make sure everyone was safe. It was really clear that there were no SOPs during an emergency. Despite everything, all praise to God, everyone was safe.
We are not here to get sympathy. We just want answers. It’s our every right to know what had really happened to us.
I believe we all want to be assured of our safety, be it being in Singapore or overseas.
And the reason, I’m writing this is so that everyone know what had REALLY HAPPENED. Things you read in the report given by various agency and organization was very misleading and all of us feel the angst. I hope no such things will occur again.
May God bless all of us.
**FOR THOSE PASSENGERS WHO TOOK PHOTOS AND VIDEOS, I SEEK YOUR UTMOST UNDERSTANDING TO PLEASE SEND PHOTOS AND VIDEOS TO THE MPA TO HELP IN THE INVESTIGATION.”