16 dead on blazing ferry as passengers jump into sea

A FIRE broke out on an Indonesian ferry carrying 300 people today, killing at least 16 and sending panicked passengers jumping into sea, officials and witnesses said.

One women slipped beneath the waves as she clutched her 18-month-old daughter.

More than a dozen people remained unaccounted for following the country's second major maritime disaster in as many months. The fire started in a truck on the Levina 1's car deck, hours after the 2000-ton vessel left the capital, Jakarta, for the north-western island of Bangka,. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

Flames and heavy black smoke poured from the 27-year-old ferry as authorities launched a massive rescue operation, plucking 275 survivors from the Java Sea and the ship's charred hull.

Two warships, three helicopters, a tug boat and nine cargo ships were taking part in search and rescue efforts, scouring surrounding waters for victims, said port official Hambar Wiyadi.

Yas Rijal, 33, who was with his wife and son on the upper deck when the fire broke out, said: "It was terrifying. "Suddenly flames bust from the lower deck. The crew ordered us to put on yellow life vests and we jumped."