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I'm planning a holiday to Indonesia and want to visit multiple islands. I had thought to take ferries between the different islands. However, a lot of people have told me bad things about the ferries in Indonesia, including:

(a) The ferries have far too many people packed onto them, well above the limit imposed for health & safety reasons

(b) The ferries are not seaworthy and therefore likely to be involved in a tragic accident

(c) The ferries will give you a rough crossing to the point of making you ill

Basically, I just want to know if the situation is really this bad. For example, are there safety records of Indonesian ferries to give an objective view of the situation?

To be more objective, some pointer questions are:

  1. Are these things really true, or just people complaining without good reason?
  2. What kind of things can go wrong if the ferry operators put more people on than the limit?
  3. How frequently do accidents really happen on ferry routes compared to how many ferry crossings there are in a year? For example, is it significantly more likely to be killed in an Indonesian shipping accident than in a plane accident?
  4. What are the other ways of travelling between Indonesian islands and the benefits/disadvantages of each? Flying is an obvious one, but is this really practical (in order to reach typical tourist destinations quickly enough to fit into, say, a 10-day long holiday) and does it have any similar safety risks associated with local carriers?
  • Too many questions. Please have a read of the help center and consider splitting your questions into separate ones. – Mark Mayo Oct 28 '14 at 22:47
  • Also asking for recommendations is generally frowned upon, as seen in the help center. – Mark Mayo Oct 28 '14 at 22:47
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    I've heard scary stories about airplanes in Indonesia, too. The truth is that in a country with less (enforced) regulations / lower standards on public transportation safety, you might have a higher risk of getting into an accident. – gerrit Oct 28 '14 at 22:52
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    I have edited the question in an attempt to focus it (by removing the request for alternatives) and more objective (by asking for safety records). If you feel I have vandalized your question, please feel free to roll back my edit. – Flimzy Oct 29 '14 at 0:58
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    I don't think it's unreasonable to ask about the safety record of the ferries in a given country. The Philippines has a very scary record and South Korea has a scarily inconsistent record, for instance. If it's answerable for those countries it's answerable for arbitrary countries. – hippietrail Oct 29 '14 at 13:09
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One by one:

  1. Yes, Indonesian ferries are that bad. Overcrowding is rife, safety precautions are often non-existent, and the open sea can often be rough. As a simple example, Jakarta Globe's category "Indonesia boat accident" has at least 7 separate sinkings that killed people for 2014 alone, and see the links in this answer for some stories of a typical tourist ferry crossing (Flores-Lombok).
  2. Either a) nothing happens, or b) the ferry sinks and you most likely die.
  3. Indonesian planes are a lot safer: nobody has died in a commercial airline crash since 2011, and that was a turboprop on a marginal airline (Nusantara). Excluding the Sukhoi Superjet crash (which was a demo flight of a new Russian plane at an airshow, not a commercial flight), the last crash of a jet plane was in 2007.
  4. Indonesia is all islands, so your options are to take a boat or fly. But flying is extremely practical (considerably more practical than ferries, IMHO): fares are very cheap and the larger carriers (Garuda, Lion, Air Asia) are quite reliable and safe.

It's worth noting, though, that there are large differences between the ferry operators as well. National operator Pelni hasn't had a boat sink since 1981, despite plying all year around all around the backwaters of Indonesia. The large car ferries (Sumatra-Java, Java-Bali, Bali-Lombok) are also pretty solid. It's the small speedboats plying off the beaten track in bad weather that are most likely to kill you.

Last but not least, if you've only got 10 days, just how many islands were you planning to visit? You could easily spend all that time on say Bali alone, and 10 days to get through even Java and Bali would be pretty rushed in my book.

  • +1, The only thing to add regarding Air travel in Indonesia is that while it's not as risky as ferries, it's also not very reliable. So make sure you do not rely on certain departure/arrival times. – uncovery Oct 29 '14 at 4:56
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    @uncovery Depends on the airline though. I've never had a problem with Garuda, while ♫ it's Merpati and I'll fly if I want to ♫ is infamous for delays and cancellations. – jpatokal Oct 29 '14 at 9:57
  • If you're travelling with the aim of seeing rude ignorant Australians getting drunk and vomiting and offending the locals, you might not need to go anywhere besides Bali d-; – hippietrail Oct 29 '14 at 13:13
  • @jpatokal Same as with the ferries, also among the airlines there are more and less reliable ones. Garuda is surely the best in Indonesia. – uncovery Oct 29 '14 at 13:30
  • "hasn't had a boat sink since 1981!" gosh! :-) – Fattie Oct 29 '14 at 16:50

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