Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sea collision toll now 31: Frantic search for 172 missing - Philippine Star

CEBU, Philippines - Rescuers battled stormy weather yesterday in the search for 172 people missing after a ferry collided with a cargo ship and sank almost instantly, with 31 confirmed dead.

The St Thomas Aquinas ferry was carrying 832 passengers and crew when it collided with Span Asia/Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation on Friday night at Lawis Ledge, a dangerous choke point off Talisay City.

Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CCDRRMO) identified 16 of the fatalities.

They are Hilario Maligro, 50; Domingo Anomat, 68, Teogenes Jabines; Alfonso Comanza; Jonathan Cabural; Romulo Escrupolo; Armida Manalon, Lolita Butao, 52; Artemia Bunotan, 58; Evelyn Calipano Caro, 53; Vicente Ancla, Jr., 74; Cresencia Calipano, 73; Antonio Arbutante, 75; Julius Flores; Joshua Rene Diaz, 4; and 2GO crewmember Melin Menia Manoza.

In a press conference, 2GO assistant vice president Lito Salvio said that their ship did not exceed the maximum capacity.

"The ship's maximum capacity is about 1,100. That night, it carried 841 individuals composed of 723 passengers and 118 crew members," Salvio said.

The manifesto noted that the passengers included 644 adults, 24 minors and 55 infants.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, 645 passengers and 106 crew members were rescued.

Cebu Governor Hilario Davide, Jr., who led a crisis management committee, said immediate assistance such as food, clothing, medical, and accommodation are being extended to the survivors who are temporarily housed at 2GO office in Pier 4, Cebu City.

How it happened

The St. Thomas Aquinas was entering the Cebu harbor when it collided with the cargo vessel, which was sailing the opposite direction, bound for Davao City.

Commodore William Melad, district commander of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), said that based on survivors' accounts, it was the cargo vessel that hit the ferry on its right side.

The St. Thomas Aquinas then tilted to the left until it finally sunk 15 to 20 minutes later.

Melad said both vessels were navigating through the deepest part of Lawis Ledge, a narrow strait some two kilometers off Talisay City.

"While the sea is very wide, both sides of the strait were shallow. So if they go to the right or left, masangad na man sila so nag-ilog sila sa tunga," Melad explained.

The crash site was some 110 feet deep, said Melad. The St. Thomas Aquinas has 11,405 gross tonnage, while Span Asia has 9,621 gross tonnage.

PCG and the Philippine Navy immediately sent rescue teams with the help of some commercial vessels Friday night. The Central Command also conducted air surveillance the following morning.

Also taking part in the rescue operations were the Bantay Dagat, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation, Basak Pardo Emergency Rescue, Philippine National Red Cross and the alert teams from barangays Tisa, Labangon, Punta Princesa, Basak Pardo, Mambaling, N. Bacalso.

Helping out in crowd control were the city's Prevention Restoration Order Beautification Enhancement and City Traffic Operations Management.

Three teams of divers, including those from Palawan, helped in the search and rescue operation yesterday, Melad said.

The search and rescue operations were temporarily suspended later in the afternoon due to unfavorable weather condition.

Melad said the search and retrieval operation will resume today.

PCG started deploying oil spill booms within the crash site yesterday morning as traces of crude oil from the sunken vessel started leaking.

By afternoon, the oil spill has reached Lapu-lapu City and Cordova town, said Melad.

Melad said a team from the Technical Environmental Protection in Manila will arrive today to assess the oil leakage and its possible damage to the marine recourses.

Apart from the Cebu provincial government, the crisis management committee is composed of the Cebu City government, PCG, Office of the Civil Defense, and the Philippine National Police.

Police Regional Office 7 director Danilo Constantino said they maintained order amid the tragedy.

"We deployed police personnel sa ating command center at sa holding area ng mga survivors at kung saan dinala ang mga cadavers," said Constantino.

Both vessel captains, who were also rescued, are now in the custody of their respective shipping line companies and will undergo investigation, said Melad.

Among those rescued were American national Stephen Nuer and 61-year-old New Zealander Harold Tyler, who is being treated at the Chong Hua Hospital.

Immediately after the incident, 2GO deployed two Supercat fastcraft and St. Pope John Paul vessel to assist in the rescue operations.

Volunteers converged at the Talisay City Fish Port to help in the search and retrieval operations.

Divers from the Knight-Stewards of the Sea, Inc. (Seaknights) were among the first to dive to the sunken MV St. Thomas Aquinas, master diver Alfie Fernandez said.

Fernandez said the ship was tilting on its side when they found it 27 meters below.

The Coast Guard, however, did not permit any diver to penetrate the ship for their safety.

Local gov't response

The Capitol has sent teams from the Integrated Provincial Health Office and the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office to various hospitals to help the survivors.

Provincial Information Officer Ethel Natera said that for patients at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, the Capitol has an open credit line for their medical needs.

Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes mobilized the city's ambulances and rescue teams to help in the rescue and retrieval operations.

Cortes also sent the city's social workers to help in the stress debriefing of the survivors.

Department of Social Welfare Services, aside from answering the immediate basic needs of survivors, also conducted stress debriefing.

DSWD regional information officer Jaybee Binghay told The Freeman yesterday that they deployed 32 social workers to do the stress debriefing.

Stress debriefing centers are at the 2Go office, Sugbutel, Stellamaries in Pier 4, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Cebu City Medical Center and Perpetual Soccour Hospital.

"We get the profile. Aron mahibaw-an namu pila ka bata ug adults, unsa pod ang ilang needs. Initially, atong mga trained debriefers are doing one-on-one for diffusing and critical incident stress debriefing," Bighay said.

To help stranded passengers, Tigerair will operate additional flights today and tomorrow from Manila to Cebu and vice versa.

Tigerair departs Manila at 6:15 p.m. and arrives Cebu at 7:30 p.m. Flight from Cebu to Manila will be at 8:45 p.m. and arrive Manila at 10 p.m.

One can book and purchase tickets through

Tigerair airport ticketing offices are also open at NAIA Terminal 4 and Mactan Cebu International Airport.  — With Ria Mae Y. Booc, Gregg M. Rubio, Flor Z. Perolina, Marigold P. Lebumfacil, Liv G. Campo and AFP/LPM (FREEMAN)
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