Philippines ferry crash: Search for survivors

Many people are still looking for relatives who were on board the ferry

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Search teams have resumed efforts to find more than 80 people still missing after a ferry and a cargo ship collided in the Philippines.

At least 34 people died when the MV Thomas Aquinas sank off the central port of Cebu on Friday with more than 800 people onboard, officials said.

Poor weather has disrupted attempts to send down divers into the wreckage.

A navy spokesman said it was possible survivors could be found inside air pockets, although chances were slim.

The number of people officially listed as missing was reduced on Sunday from a previous figure of 170 due to tallying issues.

The authorities say more than 750 people have been rescued since the collision, which happened in calm waters around 2km (1.2 miles) from the shore.

Coastguard and military vessels helped with the search operation, but it has been hampered by rough seas.

The BBC's Jonathan Head: Frightening ordeal for passengers

Navy spokesman Lt Cdr Gregory Fabic told AFP the weather had prevented divers from reaching the interior of the sunken vessel, where many of those missing were believed trapped.

"It is possible that there are air pockets in its compartments and there might be survivors," he said.

"There is still hope that there might just be survivors there."

Philippines President Benigno Aquino has ordered an investigation into the collision.

BBC South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says this is likely to focus on whether the narrow lanes approaching Cebu harbour were used incorrectly.

Suspended

Survivors said hundreds of passengers jumped into the ocean as the ferry began taking on water and listing on Friday evening. The crew distributed life jackets.

Map

Many were asleep when the crash happened and others struggled to find their way in the dark, reports said.

One survivor, Jerwin Agudong, said he and other passengers jumped overboard in front of the cargo vessel.

"It seems some people were not able to get out," Mr Agudong told radio station DZBB. "I pity the children. We saw dead bodies on the side, and some being rescued."

It is believed 58 babies were among the passengers on board but it is unclear how many of them died.

Many of the survivors were sick from swallowing seawater and oil that is thought to have spilled from the 11,000-tonne ferry.

A cluster of life rafts floats near the cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete Saturday Aug 17, 2013, a day after it collided with a passenger ferry in central Philippines Life rafts floated alongside the cargo ship after the ferry sank
A fisherman with his right foot tainted with oil believed to be from the sunken ferry St. Thomas Aquinas after the ferry collided with a cargo ship near the Philippines' second largest city of Cebu Fishermen were covered in oil as they helped with the search
Philippine coast guard personnel search for survivors and dead bodies on floating life rafts from the sunken ferry MV Thomas Aquinas on August 17, 2013 Coast guard workers continued to look for bodies and any remaining survivors
Fishermen help Philippine Navy and Coastguard rescuers search for survivors and bodies near the damaged Sulpicio Express 7 cargo vessel which collided with the ferry in central Philippines August 17, 2013 The damage to the cargo ship was clearly visible

The authorities believe it is possible some people may have been picked up by local fishing boats and have not yet reported themselves.

A coast guard official told reporters that the cargo ship, Sulpicio Express 7, had 36 crew members on board, but it did not sink.

It emerged on Saturday that Span Asia Carrier Corp, the company that owns the cargo ship, also owned the ferry involved in the world's worst maritime disaster in peacetime, which occurred in the Philippines in December 1987.

PHILIPPINE FERRY DISASTERS

  • 1987: Dona Paz ferry sinks after colliding with a fuel tanker, 4,341 people die.
  • 2008: The ferry MV Princess of the Stars capsizes during a typhoon, killing nearly 800.

More than 4,000 people died when the Dona Paz ferry collided with a tanker.

Maritime accidents are quite frequent in the Philippine archipelago because of tropical storms, badly maintained passenger boats and weakly enforced safety regulations.

Passengers on the ferry involved in Friday's collision had embarked at Nasipit in the southern province of Agusan del Sur.

The 40-year-old vessel was operated by a Chinese-owned company called 2Go, the largest ferry operator in the Philippines.

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