SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) – Ahmad Rifai thought he was going to die as huge waves hurled his life raft around the Java Sea following last week’s ferry sinking in central Indonesia. But for five days he desperately gripped the boat, too scared to sleep, until he washed ashore.

“I remember those nights when I was adrift in the middle of the dark night with storms, rain, lightning and high waves,” said Rifai, a 45-year-old plantation worker, as he recovered Friday in a hospital in the coastal city of Surabaya.

“There was nothing I could do, I could only keep chanting, ‘God is great, God is great.”‘

Almost 630 people were on board the Senopati Nusantara when it sank before midnight after being pounded by towering waves for several hours on a trip from Borneo to the main island of Java.

More than 230 people, including the captain, have so far been rescued. Just eight corpses have been recovered.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the search on Friday to continue for the time being, saying survivor stories from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami showed that people could stay alive for up to three weeks on rafts in the country’s tropical climate.

Survivors of the ferry sinking have been found on life rafts, clinging to debris or on beaches of remote islands after washing ashore. They have been found farther away from the site of the sinking each day because of ocean currents.

Col. Jan Simamora, head of the search and rescue mission, said ships and planes were scouring the sea near the resort island of Bali, some 430 miles west of where the ferry sank.

No survivors have been found, though, since Rifai and 14 others in his tiny raft ran aground Wednesday on an island hundreds of miles away.

Rifai said that during his time at sea he saw no rescue teams. The men in the raft spotted land three times, but high waves prevented them from using their hands to paddle the vessel ashore. They survived on rain water before washing ashore.

“We just went where the waves took us,” he said.

Indonesia has been wracked in recent weeks by seasonal storms that have triggered deadly landslides, flooding and at least six maritime accidents in different parts of the sprawling archipelago. A jetliner with 102 people on board disappeared in heavy winds and is still missing.

As the ferry sank, Rifai said he saw two adults and two children hugging each other on deck before jumping into the sea, still holding on to each other.

“It seemed they wanted to die together,” he said, adding the image stayed with him during his time on the life raft. “Thank God we managed to get in a raft,” he said.

Another survivor said thinking about his wife and children gave him strength.

“I tried to remember what they did each day,” said Ansari, who goes by a single name. “I could not imagine dying and leaving no one to look after my family. “

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