A rescue official said 10 passengers were found dead and 126 passengers managed to grab life buoys and other floating materials to keep them afloat and safe before rescuers arrived. Among the survivors were 11 crewmen and the skipper Andi Sulistiyono.
"Two among the dead passengers were children below five years old," Aksar Amir, an official of the Banggai Laut Regional Disaster Control Agency (BPBD) said via telephone on Saturday.
Aksar, who was leading the process of evacuation, said all victims, safe and dead passengers were in the process of evacuation to Banggai Laut using a passenger vessel the KM Lapolo Ekspres.
The wooden boat on the way from Baubau, Southeast Sulawesi, to Taliabo, Maluku Utara carried around 150 passengers and crewmen.
Searching on the missing passengers is still underway on Saturday assisted by a Search and Rescue Team from Kendari, the capital of Southeast Sulawesi.
According to the crewmen, the fire broke out at mid day Friday after the engine suddenly getting hot as water coolant could not flow. The vessels finally sank in the sea off the island of Tagong Sagu, sub-district of Bangkurung of the Banggai Laut district.
Report about the incident was received in Banggai at around 16.00 local time and the rescue team arrived on the spot only at 17.00.
The rescuers also included military and police officers and BPBD officers.
Aksar Amir said he could not yet given the identities of the dead victims, but said that they were seven women, a man and two babies.
"We believe none of them of Banggai Laut as all of the passengers boarded the ship at Baubau with Taliabu as the destination although it planned to transit at Banggai for logistics," he said.
Reported by Rolex Malaha
Editing by A Saragih, Sri Haryati