Manila – Rescuers were searching today for more than 200 people missing after a ferry sank in the central Philippines, killing at least 28 people, the coast guard has said.
The MV St Thomas Aquinas collided with a cargo ship off the port of Talisay City in Cebu province, 580 kilometres south of Manila, yesterday evening, forcing many people on board to jump off the ship.
Emergency workers rescued 629 survivors from the sea overnight, said coast guard vice commandant Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr.
Divers recovered at least one body from the sunken ferry, said navy operations officer Commander Noel Escalona.
“They weren’t able to count how many were trapped,” he said.
“They couldn’t enter the ship yet. They need underwater knives because there are a lot of ropes and it would be dangerous for them.”
More diving equipment was being transported to the area, said Lieutenant Jim Alagao, a regional military spokesman.
Alagao earlier said the death toll has reached 35, but the coast guard said the number was still being verified.
Tuason said the ferry sank within 10 minutes after the collision.
“The vessel suffered a huge hole on its right side in the rear and as soon as the two ships separated, it took on water fast,” he said.
Junjun Col, a survivor, said chaos broke out when the ferry tilted after the collision.
“People were bumping into each other and many were screaming and crying,” he told a Manila news network.
“A woman clung to me as I jumped off the vessel, and I just held on to her as tightly as I could.”
The 2Go Group, which owns the sunken vessel, said the crew distributed life jackets to the passengers and carried out emergency procedures to abandon the ship.
“At the same time, the ship’s officers sent a distress signal to the nearest Philippine Coast Guard station to alert them for immediate rescue operations,” it said in a statement.
Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armando Balilo said authorities were checking discrepancies in the number of people on board the ship, with 2Go Group insisting only 841 were on the ferry.
Balilo said the coast guard had tallied 870 people on board the St Thomas during the accident.
The company said the ferry had an authorised capacity of 1 010 passengers.
Sea travel is a key mode of transportation in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7 000 islands. Accidents are common due to poor safety standards and overloading.
The country was the site of the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster when a ferry collided with an oil tanker days before Christmas in 1987, killing more than 4 300 people.
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