Officials say the search was called off after "intense" discussions with the families. The final toll for the June 18 incident was 21 survivors, three recovered and 164 people missing, presumed drowned.

Relatives of missing passengers on July 2, 2018 at the location where the ferry sank in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia on June 18, 2018.
Relatives of missing passengers on July 2, 2018 at the location where the ferry sank in Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia on June 18, 2018. (Reuters)

Indonesia on Tuesday stopped searching in one of the world's deepest lakes for the bodies of dozens of victims of a ferry sinking two weeks ago.

Their official toll on Tuesday was 21 survivors including the boat's captain, three bodies found and 164 people missing, presumed drowned.

Officials said after "intense" discussions with the families of victims, the end of the search effort was marked with prayers, the scattering of flowers on Lake Toba and a groundbreaking ceremony for a monument.

The wooden ferry, five times above its passenger limit and also carrying dozens of motorcycles, sank in the volcanic crater lake on Sumatra in rough weather on June 18.

Criminal charges

The full scale of the tragedy took days to unfold as the boat didn't have a passenger manifest. Officials at one point said more than 190 people were missing. 

Sonar has pinpointed the ferry at a depth of 450 metres. A remotely operated underwater vehicle last week captured images of bodies and motorcycles on the lake bed.

Police in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, said they are finalising criminal charges against five people including the captain and four transportation officials.

"They knew the capacity of the ferry Sinar Bangun was only about 40," North Sumatra police chief Paulus Waterpau said on Monday. 

"Moreover, as a wooden boat it should not have been allowed to carry motorcycles," he said.

Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with weak enforcement of safety regulations often to blame. 

The Lake Toba sinking was the worst in about a decade.

Source: AP