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Police and rescue workers search a boat for victims at Muara Angke port in Jakarta, Indonesia January 1, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

(reuters_tickers)

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Twenty three people were killed and dozens injured on Sunday after a fire ripped through a boat carrying nearly 250 people to islands north of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, the city's search and rescue agency said.

The Zahro Express caught fire shortly after leaving Muara Angke port in North Jakarta. The cause of the fire was thought to be a short circuit on a power generator, said police.

"Thick smoke suddenly emerged, blanketing the cabin," said survivor Ardi who was being treated in a Jakarta hospital.

"All passengers panicked and ran up to the deck to throw floats into the water. In a split second, the fire becomes bigger coming from where fuel is stored," said Ardi, who was on the boat with his son.

The boat was towed back to port where a Reuters witness saw victims in body bags being removed from the badly charred ship.

According to the head of Jakarta's search and rescue agency, Hendra Sudirman, 248 people were on board, more than double the previous estimate of 100, and out of more than 200 people rescued, 32 were being treated at hospitals in Jakarta.

Sea accidents are frequent in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago, with vessels often overloaded and having too few life jackets on boat.   

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Angie Teo, and Johan Purnomo; Writing by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

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