31 dead in sea mishap; 172 others missing

Agence France-Presse
(5th UPDATE) Nearly 600 have been rescued, but more than 100 other passengers of Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express 7 are still missing

SEARCH ON. Three-month old Trisia Mae Kumaro is among those rescued from a sea collision in Cebu. Rescuers are still looking for more than 200 missing. Photo by AFP

CEBU, Philippines (8th UPDATE) – At least 31 people are dead while at least 172 remain missing after a ferry collided with a cargo ship in the Philippines on Friday night, August 16, the Philippine Coast Guard reported.

The Thomas Aquinas ferry, which was carrying 870 passengers, sank quickly after colliding with a freighter near the port of Cebu, the country’s second biggest city, said Tuason.

A rescue mission involving coast guard, navy, and local boats was launched immediately after the collision, which occurred about 9 pm around two kilometers from shore.

“The Aquinas has sunk and we have sent a navy patrol gunboat to join the coast guard in the search and rescue effort,” navy spokesman Lieutenant Commander Gregory Fabic told AFP.

As of Saturday, August 17, 2:20 pm, rescuers had saved 629 people but 31 people were confirmed killed, the PCG’s public affairs office in Manila told Rappler.

ALIVE. A passenger is rescued.

“Those rescued are with the coastguard and with other vessels who helped in the effort.”

The ship manifest indicated only 692 people on board, but ferries in the Philippines are often overcrowded. “We are still checking the manifest as to how many exactly are aboard,” Villegas said Friday, August 16.

Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry’s owners, told Cebu radio station DYSS that the ship was sailing into port when it collided head-on with the cargo ship.

“The impact was very strong,” she said, adding that the ferry sank within 30 minutes of the collision.

SURVIVOR. A passenger is greeted by relatives

Cebu coastguard commander Weniel Azcuna told reporters the accident occurred about two kilometers from the Cebu port.

He said the cargo ship, Sulpicio Express 7, had 36 crew members on board, but it did not sink.

Ferries are one of the main modes of transport across the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, particularly for the millions of people too poor to fly.

But sea accidents are common, with poor safety standards, lax enforcement, and overloading typically to blame.

The world’s deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred  in the Tablas Strait, near Marinduque, in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.

In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead. – With reports from Voltaire Tupaz/Rappler.com