Indonesia’s government admitted on Monday it had undertaken fewer than half of the reforms planned in the past four years for its crucial maritime sector, which suffered another fatal accident at the weekend when a ferry sank.

Jusman Djamal, transport minister, said the creation of harbourmaster and port authorities, and reform of services implementation, were examples of measures awaiting action.

“We’ve done about 40 to 50 per cent of what we need to do,” he told a press conference held to explain the latest ferry accident.

Mr Jusman said 245 people were missing after the Teratai Prima, which was last inspected in December, sank on Sunday in a small cyclone while sailing from Sulawesi island to Borneo. There were 22 survivors, including the captain, but no bodies have been recovered.

Ships are the only means of transportation for tens of millions of Indonesians, particularly in the eastern half of the 17,500-island nation. But inadequate regulations and poor enforcement of those that exist mean accidents are so common they are barely newsworthy unless the death toll is in the scores.

Experts in the maritime sector believe the minister’s figures for action taken are probably an overestimation. “If accidents don’t happen it’s by luck, not by design,” said one port operator.

Indonesia’s parliament passed a sea transport law last May that tightened rules and ended the state monopoly on port management. But the accompanying regulations have not been published, meaning much of the legislation cannot be implemented.

A port operator, who asked not to be identified, said the new law would have little impact on safety at sea. “The real problem is how the [authorities] organise themselves,” he said.

Bambang Susantono, head of the Indonesian Transportation Society, a non-governmental organisation, said the devolution of many surveillance and enforcement responsibilities to inadequately trained local officials and the lack of resources to monitor all boats meant accidents would continue to be frequent.

“Bad weather can always happen and that can’t be controlled,” he said. “But too often the authorities aren’t competent and ship owners and operators don’t prioritise safety so when accidents do happen the number of casualties is much higher than it could have been.”

Abdul Gani, director-general of sea transport at the transport ministry, acknowledged that overloading and reckless disregard for rules and regulations put many people at risk.

Mr Bambang said safety in the aviation sector had improved more in comparison following high-profile crashes in 2007 because it was easier to enforce regulations. Indonesia has worked hard to improve its aviation sector following a European Union ban on all its airlines in the same year.

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