Rescuers in helicopters and boats were on Saturday desperately searching for nearly 300 people missing after a ferry sank in the Philippines, with at least 24 already confirmed killed.
CEBU, Philippines – Rescuers in helicopters and boats were on Saturday desperately searching for nearly 300 people missing after a ferry sank in the Philippines, with at least 24 already confirmed killed.
The Thomas Aquinas ferry was carrying 870 passengers and crew when it collided with a cargo ship on Friday night in calm waters near the port of Cebu, the Philippines’ second biggest city, authorities said.
While 572 people had been rescued by Saturday morning, 24 bodies had been retrieved and 274 were still unaccounted for, Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, vice commandant of the Philippine coastguard, told AFP.
The accident occurred in the mouth of a narrow strait leading into the port between two and three kilometres from shore, authorities said.
“They are using search lights to scan the waters, but still there is a possibility you can miss those floating at sea,” Joy Villages, an official at the coastguard’s public affairs office headquarters in Manila, told AFP before dawn on Saturday.
“Rescuers are trying to get to all of them.”
Tuason then told DZMM radio just after sunrise there were hopes that some of the missing had been picked up by fishermen who had joined in the rescue effort, or were floating on life rafts.
But he said he expected the death toll would climb substantially.
“Yes, that will still be a big number,” he said.
“We are planning to deploy airforce choppers so there can be an aerial survey so we can find those still on the life rafts.”
Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry’s owners, told Cebu radio station DYSS that the vessel 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.
Cebu coastguard commander Weniel Azcuna told reporters 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 near the capital, Manila, 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.
Coastguard public affairs officer Villages said the Thomas Aquinas was a “roll-on, roll-off” ferry that allows vehicles to be driven aboard and is commonly used in the Philippines.
Details on the cargo ship were not immediately available.
In June, seven people died when another roll-on, roll-off ferry mysteriously sank in calm waters in the central Philippines.