At least 4 dead after ferry capsizes off Philippines
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – At least 4 persons died while 240 others were rescued after a ferry on Thursday, December 21, capsized between Dinahican Point, Infanta and Agta Point, Polillo Island, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.
The accident occurred off the town of Real, about 70 kilometers east of Manila, as the boat sailed towards the remote island of Polillo in rough weather, PCG spokesperson Captain Armand Balilo told a news conference.
Balilo said the boat, Mercraft 3, left the port of Real in the morning and capsized shortly before noon.
"We believe the weather was a big factor" in the accident, he added.
According to the PCG, the ferry left Real as the southern section of the archipelago braced for Tropical Storm Vinta (Tembin), forecast to hit land between late Thursday evening and early Friday morning, December 22.
However, the vessel was allowed to sail as there were no storm warnings in or around Real or Polillo, east of the main island of Luzon, he said.
The boat was authorized to carry 286 people, he added.
The PCG has dispatched its rescue teams from Southern Luzon to Real, Quezon, and search and rescue operations for 7 missing passengers are still ongoing.
The PCG has also coordinated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Southern Luzon Command in Lucena, Quezon for the deployment of its air and maritime assets to join the search and rescue.
Balilo said they will continue the rescue operations "through the night."
Meanwhile, the bodies of the 4 passengers were reportedly brought to Claro M. Recto Hospital in Infanta, Quezon.
The government has advised Filipinos planning to return to their home provinces for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid severe weather conditions.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands on the Pacific typhoon belt, is plagued by poor sea transport, with badly regulated boats and ships providing the backbone for the system prone to overcrowding and accidents.
The latest accident occurred 30 years after another Philippine ferry, the Doña Paz, collided with an oil tanker in a pre-Christmas accident that claimed more than 4,000 lives in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.
More recently, the wooden ferry Kim Nirvana capsized shortly after departure off the city of Ormoc in the central Philippines in 2015, killing 61 people.
The accident was thought to have been due to overcrowding. As well as passengers, the boat had also been transporting sacks of cement, rice, and fertilizer which would have weighed as much as 7.5 tons.
In 2013, at least 71 were killed when the Saint Thomas Aquinas ferry sank after colliding with a cargo ship near Cebu port in the central Philippines. The ship was carrying 830 passengers and crew. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com