Hunt for Philippines ferry disaster survivors suspended

At least 32 people dead, 170 missing after collision off port of Cebu

Fishermen help Philippine navy and noastguard rescuers search for survivors and bodies near the damaged Sulpicio Express 7 cargo vessel which collided with a ferry yesterday in Talisay, Cebu in central Philippines. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Fishermen help Philippine navy and noastguard rescuers search for survivors and bodies near the damaged Sulpicio Express 7 cargo vessel which collided with a ferry yesterday in Talisay, Cebu in central Philippines. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Sat, Aug 17, 2013, 14:26

Worsening weather and sea conditions today 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 today 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 tomorrow, 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,” Mr 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 kilometre off Cebu.

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

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 yesterday’s incident said it was carrying 723 passengers, 118 crew and 104 20-ft containers. It had an authorised 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.

Reuters