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
International

'Barack Obama cheats on Michelle' claims Japanese politician…

A senior Japanese politician has marred Barack Obama's official visit to Tokyo with bizarre claims that the President cheats on his wife Michelle. Kazuyuki Hamada,…

International

British Royal family devastated by freak NY death…

The British royals have been left devastated by the death of Mark Shand, younger brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, after a freak fall in…

Local

Philadelphia principal has President Obama's ear

The West Philadelphia head is gathering ideas to present to the White House.

Local

Neighbors testify at Overbrook roommate slaying trial

Neighbors and roommates were called to testify Wednesday in the trial of Renaldo Robichaw, 56, charged with murder for the death of roommate Albert Smith, 48.

Television

‘Survivor: Cagayan’ recap: Episode 9

It was only an hour-long episode, but there's a lot to cover this week. The drama of Survivor strikes again as the identity of the…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, April 23: 'Suburgatory,' 'Modern…

'Suburgatory' The men of "Suburgatory" go camping and Tessa mentors a social outcast in a Miss Chatswin contest, which brings her, once again, into conflict…

Movies

Latin culture highlighted at Filadelphia film fest

Get ready to have a “Bad Hair” day at the upcoming Filadelphia Latin American Film Festival. We mean that in the best possible way. The…

The Word

The best lines from Oprah's ex-stepmother's Daily Mail…

Oprah’s ex-stepmother, Barbara Winfrey, is out for revenge.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

NFL

Eagles will spend Thanksgiving in Dallas, play four…

The Eagles have an impressive, challenging and exciting schedule in 2014.

NFL

NFL releases Eagles 2014 schedule

The Eagles have four primetime games, face the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and host the Seahawks in a dynamic, challenging and impressive schedule.

NHL

All signs suggest Steve Mason will start in…

Flyers head coach Craig Berube elected to put Steve Mason in net for the final minutes of Game 3.

Style

Pippa Middleton's Etsy pick: Golden Thread Jewelry

Get a look at the jewelry Pippa Middleton loves and find out how you can buy it too.

Parenting

What every parent needs to know to get…

Mom and author of "Small Talk," Tracey Blake, shares her five practical tips to help you develop your children's language skills.

Sex

Subway crush: Meet your soulmate on your commute

Read about a couple who has been 40 years after meeting on the train.

Tech

Happy birthday, Game Boy! The handheld console turns…

Nintendo's Game Boy turns 25 this week. To commemorate, we look at some of its better games, like "Tetris" and "The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening."