MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The death toll in the boat tragedy in Leyte now stands at 41, while 5 passengers are still unaccounted for, Philippine authorities said early Friday afternoon, July 3.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told reporters 141 survived, including all the crew of motor boat Kim Nirvana, while 5 others were missing.
Abaya said government investigators would summon the crew to determine the cause of the accident.
“We will get to the bottom of this and make sure that this does not happen again,” he said.
PCG Spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said in media interviews on Friday that authorities will look into all angles in its investigation. “We are determined to pursue the angle of human error,” Balilo said.
The PCG spokesman said in earlier interviews that the boat – which carried 173 passengers and 16 crew members – was just 200 meters away from its point of departure, the port of Ormoc City, when it capsized.
The Cebu-bound Kim Narvana sank at around 12:50 pm on Thursday when it made a wrong maneuver shortly after undocking, he said.
The PCG had said that according to the boat’s captain, who was in its custody along with several crew members, he did not expect big waves to hit the boat when he tried to maneuver it.
Speedy, thorough probe
President Benigno Aquino III has ordered a “speedy and thorough” probe into the sea mishap. Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Coast Guard has deployed a Maritime Casualty Investigation Team to look into the possible causes of the tragedy, including “possible overloading, capability of the captain and its officers, load capacity of the vessels, and others.”
Divers briefly stopped their search on Friday morning as the waters became choppy due to Tropical Storm Egay (international name Linfa), which was set to brush past the northern Philippines later Friday, said Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina, one of the ground commanders.
Asked if they still expected to find survivors, Dolina said: “We really can’t say. Miracles can happen.”
Rescuers brought more bodies ashore to anguished families on Friday, including 10-year-old survivor Gilbert de la Cruz who wailed in despair as the corpse of his one-year-old brother was recovered.
Some survivors are blaming the boat crew for the mishap, as well as Philippine authorities for allowing the boat to sail even if it was allegedly “overloeaded” and amid rough seas. (READ: Ormoc boat passenger: ‘I should’ve listened to my wife’)
The PCG said, however, that no gale warning was issued at the time of the voyage.
The state weather service issued a gale alert for the central Philippines early Friday, warning of turbulent seas churned up by the storm.
Waves up to 4.5 meters high could overturn boats that try to leave port in these conditions, weather forecaster Gladys Saludes told Agence France-Presse.
China ‘deeply saddened’ by tragedy
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Manila expressed its condolences to the families of those who were killed in the tragedy.
In a statement released to media on Friday, it said, “The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of the Philippines is deeply saddened to learn of the unfortunate capsize tragedy of M/B Kim Nirvana near Ormoc port, Leyte Province, on July 2, 2015.”
It added: “Our thoughts go to the families of those who have lost loved ones and our condolences go to the Philippine people. We wish them strength and fortitude during this time of difficulty and pain. We hope that the search and rescue efforts will be successful.”
Smart Communications Inc, through its regional distributor, set up a station for free calls inside the Supercat Terminal in Ormoc beginning Thursday, to serve stranded survivors and those involved in operations in the area. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com