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Death toll rises to 29 as passengers rescued from stricken Indonesian ferry

The Sulawesi ferry began sinking on Tuesday afternoon in rough seas.

Passengers trapped for a night on a stricken ferry off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi have been rescued, an official said, as the death toll rose to 29.

The latest in a succession of boat tragedies in Indonesia began on the day officials called off a search for 164 people presumed drowned when a wooden ferry sank on June 18 in a deep volcanic crater lake on the island of Sumatra.

The Sulawesi ferry – with 139 passengers aboard, according to its manifest – began sinking on Tuesday afternoon in rough seas.

In a desperate bid to save lives, the vessel’s captain steered it towards shore, grounding it 200-300 metres from land.

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Rescuers helped people from the sinking ferry (Mustafa Syahril/AP)

Indonesia’s director-general of sea transportation, Agus Purnomo, said in a statement that people trapped on the ferry overnight were rescued early on Wednesday.

He did not specify how many but said the captain and the boat owner were the last two people to leave the vessel.

Earlier, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said 69 people had been rescued. It is unclear if any passengers are still missing. It said the 29 dead included two young children.

Photos released by the agency on Tuesday showed passengers clinging to the listing vessel as others descended into the heavy seas using ropes hung over its side. Most appeared to be wearing lifejackets.

Mr Purnomo credited the captain’s actions with helping to save lives.

The 48.5-metre vessel, carrying several dozen vehicles including a bus and trucks, was on its way to Selayar island, just south of the main Sulawesi island, from the port of Bira when it began taking on water.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame.

The Lake Toba sinking two weeks ago was the worst in about a decade.

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