The deadly threat 'ignored' by Aussie travellers to Indonesia

Indonesia is a holiday favourite of Australians, but they may be unaware of the dangers they face.

Sitting topless with an empty beer glass next to him, Elliot Foote appeared to be in the midst of a stereotypical Indonesian holiday, the sort enjoyed by thousands of relaxing Aussies each year.

Yet the photo of the 29-year-old shared across the globe on Tuesday afternoon doesn't portray the horror he and three surfing friends had just endured, with the group of four lucky to be alive.

He was one of six people rescued after 36 hours at sea when their wooden speedboat sank in bad weather en route to the Banyak Islands on Sunday night. A seventh person on board, Indonesian crew member Fifan Marongo, remains missing.

Elliot Foote sits topless inside a surf shack with a beer (left). Three Australians float on surfboards in the ocean off Indonesia (right).
A photo of Elliot Foote (left) alive and well brought relief to millions following the story back home in Australia. His three friends were rescued together hours earlier (right). Source: Instagram

While the focus of coverage has been the remarkable tale of survival, there is an ugly side to the miraculous moment. Questions have once again arisen over Indonesia's vast water transport system that services the world's largest archipelago.

Indonesia has one of the highest rate of deaths from incidents involving passenger vessels, and while that is largely down to the sheer number of maritime trips made each year, it still remains an alarming reality for tourists.

Australians relaxed over risk of deadly industry

Adjunct Professor Hera Oktadiana at James Cook University, an expert on Indonesian tourism, says Australians often overlook water safety when assessing the dangers of a holiday to Indonesia.

"When it comes to safety concerns, the focus tends to be on issues like scams, petty theft, the risk of terrorist attacks, natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes, as well as hygiene standards, food safety, and safety for female travellers," she told Yahoo News Australia.

The boat which sank on Sunday night with the four Australians and three Indonesians onboard. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
The boat which sank on Sunday night with the four Australians and three Indonesians on board. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Professor Oktadiana said while water transport safety conditions had improved, the frequency of fatal incidents continued to tarnish its reputation. Just last month, a passenger boat off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi capsized, killing 15 people.

"While weather factors contribute to water transport incidents, human error and technical complications stand as the primary catalysts. The absence of proper regulations, such as operating without a licence, improper navigation tools, and inadequate boat conditions, can exacerbate the likelihood of incidents," she said.

Professor Oktadiana stressed it is "crucial" for Australian travellers to make their own enquiries about safety procedures prior to boarding any vessel.

"Unfortunately, the enforcement of safety standards, especially for sea travel, is not robust."

Photos of Indonesian boating incident survivors Steph Weisse, Jordan Short, Elliot Foote and Will Teagle
Steph Weisse, Jordan Short, Elliot Foote and Will Teagle survived the ordeal – but others have not been so lucky.

Do I need extra insurance to travel by boat in Indonesia?

Natalie Ball, director of, told Yahoo the ordeal faced by Elliot and his friends was a stark reminder of the "often-unpredictable nature of travel and how quickly things can go wrong".

Ms Ball said those using charter boats to move between islands in Indonesia should be covered by their travel insurance policies but there were some key points to remember.

She said it was essential to ensure the vessel you are travelling on does not fall under the category of cruise ship to avoid an excess charge.

“Cruises are typically defined as a commercially operated ocean-going vessel, for leisure travel and usually docking temporarily at several ports. Travel insurers will usually require you to purchase cruise cover to be covered while on board," Ms Ball said.

She also advised those visiting Bali to make sure they are covered for all of Indonesia if they intend to visit other islands nearby.

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