Philippine ferry tragedy: 34 dead, dozens missing

Divers plucked two more bodies from a sunken passenger ferry Sunday and scrambled to plug an oil leak in the wreckage after a collision with a cargo ship.

Cebu: Divers plucked two more bodies from a sunken passenger ferry Sunday and scrambled to plug an oil leak in the wreckage after a collision with a cargo ship. The accident near the central Philippine port of Cebu that has left 34 dead and more than 80 others missing.

Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III said 751 passengers and crewmen of the MV Thomas Aquinas have been rescued after the inter-island ferry was in a collision late Friday with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete then rapidly sank off the Cebu pier.

Stunned passengers were forced to jump in the dark into the water after the captain ordered the doomed ferry abandoned.

Coast guard, navy and fishing vessels, backed by helicopters, scoured the choppy seas off Talisay city in Cebu, about 570 kilometers south of Manila, today but found no sign of any more survivors. Divers, however, retrieved the bodies of a man and a woman in the ferry, which sank in waters about 33 meters deep.

"We`re still on a rescue mission," Davide told reporters. "We have not given up on them."

Relatives flocked to a ticketing office of ferry owner, 2GO Group Inc., and pasted pictures of their missing loved ones. Others, like Richard Ortiz, waited quietly and stared blankly at the vast sea from the Talisay pier, where coast guard and navy rescuers have encamped.

"I just want to see my parents," said Ortiz, who clutched a picture of his father and mother. "This is so difficult." Amid initial confusion over the number of ferry passengers and the missing, Cebu coast guard chief Commodore William Melad said authorities reported that there were 870 people on board the ferry, including 754 passengers and 116 crewmen. The more than 30 crewmen of the MV Sulpicio Express Siete cargo ship, which had a huge gaping hole in its bow, were all safe, officials said.

Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Abaya said yesterday there were foreigners among the ferry passengers and all were fine, except for a New Zealand citizen who was brought to a hospital.

Coast guard deputy chief Rear Adm. Luis Tuason said some of the missing could still be trapped in the sunken ferry, which has been leaking oil.

In a statement, 2GO said the y "was reportedly hit" by the cargo vessel "resulting in major damage that led to its sinking." An investigation will begin after the rescue operation, the coast guard said.

Abaya said the cargo vessel, which was leaving the Cebu pier, smashed into right side near the rear of the ferry which was coming in from Nasipit in Agusan del Sur province in the southern Philippines and making a short stop in Cebu before proceeding to Manila.

PTI

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