200 missing in Philippine ferry disaster

2013-08-17 08:21

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cebiu - Philippine rescuers searched on Saturday for more than 200 people missing after a ferry collided with a cargo ship in thick darkness and sank almost instantly, with 26 already confirmed dead.

The St Thomas Aquinas ferry was carrying 870 passengers and crew when the accident occurred late on Friday night in calm waters near the port of Cebu, the Philippines' second biggest city, authorities said.

Coastguard and military vessels, as well as local fishermen on their own small boats hauled more than 600 people out of the water alive.

But by late on Saturday morning, 215 people were still unaccounted for and 26 bodies had been retrieved, according to the coastguard, which warned the death toll would inevitably rise.

"It did not take long, about 10 minutes, before the ferry sank," Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, vice commandant of the coastguard, said on DZBB radio.

"The captain managed to declare abandon ship and they distributed life jackets but, because of the speed by which it went down, there is a big chance that there are people trapped inside."

One survivor, Maribel Manalo, 23, recounted to her brother the horror of suddenly being plunged into the cold water in darkness, and emerging from the chaos without her mother.

"She said there was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking," the brother, Arvin Manalo, told AFP.

"They quickly strapped on life jackets and then jumped into the dark sea. She said they felt like they were pulled under. My sister said she pushed our mother up, but they got separated.

"My sister was rescued. My sister knows how to swim, but my mother does not."

He said their mother, 56, remained missing.

The accident occurred at 13:00 GMT in the mouth of a narrow strait leading into the port between 2km and 3km from shore, authorities said.

Fifty-eight babies were among the passengers on board the ferry, according to the coastguard, and it was unclear how many of them survived.

Navy divers on a speed boat scoured the sea on Saturday morning amid orange life rafts that had already been mostly emptied, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

However two lifeless bodies were seen on one raft.

Tuason said helicopters had also been deployed and specialist divers sent to search through the sunken vessel.

Screaming for help

Local fisherman Mario Chavez told AFP he was one of the first people to reach passengers after the ferry sank in the 82m-deep channel.

"I plucked out 10 people from the sea last night. It was pitch black and I only had a small flashlight. They were bobbing in the water and screaming for help," he said.

"They told me there were many people still aboard when the ferry sank... they told me many were sleeping. There were screams, but I could not get to all of them. It was difficult to find them. I felt really bad."

Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry's owners, told Cebu radio station DYSS the vessel was sailing into port when it collided with the cargo ship.

"The impact was very strong," she said.

The cargo ship, Sulpicio Express 7, which had 36 crew members on board, did not sink.

Tuason said it appeared one of the vessels had violated rules on which lanes they should use when travelling in and out of the port.

He said the captain of the Thomas Aquinas was among those rescued, and was being questioned.

The Thomas Aquinas was a "roll-on, roll-off" ferry, which allows vehicles to be driven aboard and is commonly used in the Philippines.

Ferries are one of the main modes of transport across the archipelago of more than 7 100 islands, particularly for the millions of people too poor to fly.

But sea accidents are common, with poor safety standards, lax enforcement and overloading typically to blame.

The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near the capital, Manila, in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4 300 people.

In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.

Read more on:    philippines  |  ferry disasters  |  maritime

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.