32 dead as passenger ship sinks off Cebu
MANILA (10th UPDATE) – At least 32 people were killed and 171 remain missing after a passenger ship sank Friday night following a collision with a cargo vessel off the coast of Talisay City, Cebu, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.
Authorities said the collision between 2GO passenger vessel MV St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express 7 occurred at Lawis Ledge at 9:11 p.m., about two and a half miles away from the shoreline.
Hundreds of passengers of MV St. Thomas Aquinas had to jump into the water as the ship began to sink 10 minutes after the collision.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Jun Abaya said a total of 831 people were on board the passenger ship, 715 of whom were passengers while 116 were crew members.
The President of 2GO, Jun Tagud, said the ship had a capacity of 1,010 persons.
A total of 629 have been rescued.
PCG Vice-Commandant for Operations Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr. said search and rescue operations are jointly conducted by the PCG and Philippine Navy. Several fishing vessels also helped in the rescue efforts.
Tuason said divers will see if there are any trapped passengers inside the vessel, which sank in water around 120 feet deep.
The diving operations in the search and rescue of at least 171 passengers still missing were suspended Saturday afternoon due to bad weather.
Operations are set to resume on Sunday.
The MV St. Thomas Aquinas came from Agusan del Norte and was headed for Manila via Cebu.
One of the passengers, Mantilla Domingo, said the ship was scheduled to arrive in Cebu at around 10 p.m.
"Something caught up with the vessel and then I just saw that it was already slowly sinking. The passengers then started jumping out of the vessel," said Domingo.
Another passenger who was rescued, Glenda Sabadilla, said most of the passengers were already sleeping when the incident happened.
"Then there was a commotion and everyone was already searching for their life vests, and then we all started jumping out of the sinking vessel," she said.
Rachel Capuno, a security officer of the ferry's owners, told a Cebu radio station that the ship was sailing into port when it collided head-on with the cargo ship.
"The impact was very strong," she said.
PCG spokesman Commander Armando Balilo said there was no immediate information as to the number of crew members aboard the cargo ship.
The cause of the collision has yet to be determined.
"Aalamin po natin sa imbestigasyon pagkatapos ng search and rescue operations kung paano sila nagpang-abot samantalang meron namang traffic separation scheme doon," Tuason said.
He said the captains of the two vessels are set to give their statements regarding the accident.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said they are also moving to contain the fuel that is starting to leak from the ship.
"Pinahahanda na din ho ng ating district sa Central Visayas ang mga oil spill boom na ile-lay out para doon po ma-contain ang lalabas at unti-unti na pong lumabas yung langis sa barkong St. Thomas Aquinas," Tuason said.
Tuason said it appeared one of the vessels had violated rules on which lanes they should use when travelling in and out of the port.
He said the captain of the passenger ship was among those rescued, and was being questioned.
The MV St. Thomas Aquinas was a "roll-on, roll-off" ferry, which allows vehicles to be driven aboard.
Ferries are one of the main modes of transport across the Philippines, particularly for the millions of people who cannot afford to fly.
2GO Shipping Lines Executive Vice President Bimsy Mapa said their vessel was hit by the cargo ship, causing it to sink.
"Binangga yung barko natin ng cargo ship," Mapa said in an interview with radio dzMM, adding that their crew followed the traffic separation scheme.
The cargo ship, which had 36 crew members on board, did not sink.
Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the cargo vessel, declined to comment on the incident until after investigations.
Sulpicio Lines President and CEO Jordan Go said they are helping search and rescue efforts, adding it would be premature to determine accountability as of yet.
He said they are working closely with 2GO and government agencies and will fully cooperate with the investigation.
The damaged cargo ship is currently docked at the Port of Cebu will have to undergo survey and repairs.
Sulpicio and 2GO are directed to explain and show cause why their certificates of public convenience shouldn’t be revoked. The firms were given 72 hours to respond.
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 4,300 people.
In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead. -- Reports from Dexter Ganibe, Zandro Ochona, Johnson Manabat and June Perez, dzMM; Edgar Escalante and Carine Asutilla, ABS-CBN News Central Visayas; Agence France-Presse