Philippines suspends hunt for ferry disaster survivors; 32 dead, 170 missing

Survivors of a ferry disaster weep as they look for their missing relatives from lists of survivors in Talisay, Cebu in central Philippines August 17, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)
Survivors of a ferry disaster weep as they look for their missing relatives from lists of survivors in Talisay, Cebu in central Philippines August 17, 2013. (Credit: Reuters)

Worsening weather and sea conditions on Saturday forced the Philippines to suspend a search for survivors of a ferry disaster that killed at least 32 people and left 170 missing, authorities said.

The ferry sank on Friday after a collision just outside the central port of Cebu with a cargo vessel owned by a company involved in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster nearly 30 years ago.

Divers will resume searching early on Sunday, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told a news conference in Manila, after heavy rain brought by a typhoon and low pressure had reduced visibility at sea almost to zero.

“Diving operations stopped because of weather conditions,” Abaya said, adding that 661 of the 831 passengers and crew on the ferry had been accounted for. With 32 dead and 629 rescued, there are 170 missing. Just 17 of the dead have been identified.

“But we’ve got information that some bodies have been recovered, and we expect the number of missing to decrease, and we expect the casualties to increase.”

Many of the survivors were sick from swallowing oil and seawater, disaster officials said.

Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety. Overcrowding is common, and many of the vessels are in bad condition.

The 40-year-old ferry was approaching Cebu late in the evening when it was struck by the departing cargo vessel, the Sulpicio Express 7, leaving two huge holes in the latter’s bow. The ferry sank in minutes, about a kilometer off Cebu.

Small planes and helicopters also scoured the waters and coastal areas of Cebu island for survivors, officials said.

Divers found four bodies outside the sunken ferry hours before the search was halted, said Commander Noel Escalana, a naval operations officer.

“During the dive, they saw bodies from the windows,” he told reporters, saying the divers did not attempt to retrieve them. “It’s dangerous to enter the ship…Because they need special equipment and extra oxygen tanks.”

Escalana added that rescuers had no idea how many people were trapped inside the ship, lying on a seabed around 150 feet below sea level.

Fourteen bodies had been found in the town of Talisay, south of Cebu City, said Imelda Sabillano, another local official.

“We don’t know where these bodies came from, but we already have brought to a local morgue 31 bodies for identification,” she said, adding that morgue officials awaited the arrival of the 14 bodies to add them to the toll from the disaster.

Officials said a recount at the morgue showed 32 bodies awaited autopsy.

The Sulpicio Express 7 is owned by unlisted firm Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp, formerly known as Sulpicio Lines Inc, which owned the MV Dona Paz ferry.

That vessel collided with a tanker in the Sibuyan Sea in December 1987, killing 4,375 on the ferry and 11 of the tanker’s 13-man crew.

The owners of the ferry involved in Friday’s accident said it was carrying 723 passengers, 118 crew and 104 20-ft containers. It had an authorized capacity of 1,010 passengers and crew and 160 containers.

The captains of the two ships are alive but have yet to be questioned, said Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, the coast guard operations chief.

Abaya said initial information showed the cargo ship loaded with container vans bound for Davao on the southern island of Mindanao hit the ferry’s “vulnerable part” on the right side.

“We felt the cargo ship hit us and minutes later we noticed our ship was listing,” passenger Aldrin Raman told reporters. “I grabbed a life vest and jumped overboard. I saw many passengers doing the same.”

One of the crew said the ferry sank within 10 minutes.

“The collision left a gaping hole in the ferry and water started rushing in, so the captain ordered (us to) abandon ship,” the crew member said. Most of the passengers were already wearing life jackets before the ship sank, he added.

Another passenger, Jerwin Agudong, said several people had been trapped. “It seems some were not able to get out. We saw dead bodies on the side,” he said.

Fishermen on shore said they saw flares.

“It was very dark and we could hear a lot of people shouting, asking for help,” said George Palmero, a 35-year-old fisherman who helped pull 10 survivors from the water.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

By Piya Sinha-RoyLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment's chief emeritus Stan Lee may be in his ninth decade, but it hasn't stopped him from adding…

National

Islamic State says beheads U.S. journalist, holds another

Islamic State insurgents released a video purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago.

Local

VIDEO: NYPD seeks shooter in East New York…

Cops are on the lookout for an unknown shooter who aimed and missed hitting a man on a bicycle, instead nearly striking a nearby officer in East New York.

Local

NYS state forces thrift shops comply with ban…

Nine New York City thrift shops were reprimanded by the state attorney general for selling children's clothes with drawstrings around the neck and waist.

Television

'Pretty Little Liars' recap: Season 5, Episode 11,…

Caleb's not a ghost. Spencer might still be an attempted murderer. And Hanna's going to die next week. In other words, we actually got some…

Movies

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

Marvel Entertainment's Stan Lee is adding outposts to his creative empire to interest a new generation of children in super heroes of all shapes and sizes.

Television

Mira Sorvino explores immortality on 'Intruders'

Mira Sorvino's new show "Intruders" centers around a secret society that achieves immortality by taking over the bodies of other people.

Television

5 things you need to know about new…

"Doctor Who" returns Saturday with a new star, Peter Capaldi. Here's some things to know about him (mainly his turn as sweary spin doctor Malcolm Tucker).

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

NFL

David Wilson returns to triple jump, sets sights…

Giants fans know David Wilson can jump. They are just more used to seeing him go for backflips, not distance.

Style

11 timeless gifts for registries or just because

Gifts to prove you're a style maven once and for all.

Parenting

How everyday moments can inspire kids' creativity

"The Artist's Way for Parents" author Julia Cameron gives advice on how parents and children can be creative together.

Tech

How to stay safe online

Stop worrying about keeping your online passwords safe, and start worrying about keeping your username a secret. Actually, worry about both. According to Shaun Murphy…

Tech

OpenTable now lets you pay your bill via…

The restaurant app OpenTable added the ability to pay your bill (and tip) with your phone, thus cutting back on a few dining annoyances.