2 dead, 55 rescued as ship sinks off Masbate

MANILA, Philippines (6th UPDATE) – Less than 12 hours after a ship sank off Burias Island, Masbate, authorities have rescued all 55 surviving, documented passengers of MV Our Lady of Mt Carmel, a local disaster official said Friday, June 14.

Two other passengers died after the ship sank at around 5:30 am on Friday.

This means authorities have finished search and rescue operations for all 57 documented passengers.

Regional Office of Civil Defense director Bernardo Alejandro IV, however, said authorities will continue rescue operations. In an interview on ANC, Alejandro said some passengers might have been undocumented.

Officials have not determined the cause of the incident.

It took only a minute for the ship to sink, ship captain Lauro Mateo told GMA News. “Dire-diretso na yon. Hindi ko na ma-explain kung anong nangyari,” the captain said. (It sank very quickly. I couldn't explain what happened.)

'It happened so quickly'

Officials have not determined the cause of the incident.

Mateo said it was unlikely the ship was overloaded. 

Raffy Alejandro, director of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol, supported the claim that the ship was not overloaded. He explained the ship, after all, made the journey of about 4 hours between the two major provinces of Albay and Masbate, more than 300 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Belisario added the ship could carry a maximum of 212 passengers.

Alejandro said the cause of the sinking had not yet been determined. But the ship's captain, who was among those rescued, reported the vessel may have been unbalanced by two passenger buses and a large truck it was carrying.

"He said it happened so quickly. It just went down in the darkness," Alejandro said, adding the waters and weather were calm.

Ship owner Max Culiapsy, in a GMA News TV interview, downplayed the possibility that the ship got unbalanced.

The vessel was a roll-on, roll-off ferry commonly used in the Philippines to transport people, vehicles and cargo throughout the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands.

Sea accidents common

Sea accidents are common in the Philippines due to poor safety standards and overloading.

The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,000 people.

In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.

Alejandro expressed hope that the death toll from Friday's accident would not rise drastically, partly because the captain said most passengers were wearing life jackets. 

"We expect many more will be rescued. We were able to respond quickly," he said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.