Philippines hunts ferry survivors

Concern mounts for nearly 800 feared drowned in the Philippines after only 38 saved.

    Rescuers are still hunting for more than 800 people who were on the ship when it capsized [AFP]

    Four people were confirmed dead on Sunday and the survivors were either plucked from the sea or struggled to shore after abandoning the vessel.

    A group of mostly crew members made it to shore on a life raft to a small coastal village in Quezon province after drifting at sea for more 24 hours, the DZBB local radio station said on Monday.

    Waiting in hope

    Marga Ortigas, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the central city of Cebu, said the latest survivors gave hope to families who have been waiting for news outside the ferry company's office.

    Poor safety record

    Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the ferry, has had three major accidents in the last 21 years.

    2005 - Princess of the World caught fire at sea. No deaths were reported

    1998 - Princess of the Orient capsized. 150 people died

    1987 - Dona Paz hit an oil tanker, killing 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime sea disaster

    The Princess of the Stars was sailing to Cebu when it capsized after running aground 2km from Sibuyan island on Saturday as Typhoon Fengshen slammed into the central region.

    Sulpicio Lines, the vessel's owner, raised the number of people on board the vessel to 845 from an initial estimate of more than 740 people. At least 20 children and 33 infants were on board.

    The few who made it out alive spoke of pandemonium when the ship suddenly lurched on to its side.

    A survivor identified only as Jesse told local radio: "What I just did was to float in the water." He added that he had a life vest. 

    Two others originally on board his life raft drowned in large swells.

    "There were others who rode in the lifecraft. But it was no use, the waves were big so they capsized also," Jesse said.

    Armand Balilo, the coast guard spokesman, said the ferry was cleared to leave Manila on Friday shortly before the typhoon changed its course, adding that the ship's captain was attempting to take shelter when it capsized.

    "The engine conked out and [with] the vessel dead on the water, no immediate assistance could be rendered on the vessel," he said.

    "It suffered the consequence of drifting to the shallow portion and was grounded."

    Rescue operation

    The ferry was on its way to the central port city of Cebu when it capsized
    Rescue divers may drill holes in the remaining part of the ship above water to try to reach people trapped inside.

    A US Navy ship with search and rescue helicopters abroad is expected to arrive Okinawa late on Monday.

    A US maritime surveillance aircraft was also dispatched to the area to assist with the rescue.

    The coast guard is also checking reports that a large number of survivors might have reached a nearby island.

    According to residents of San Fernando what appears to be wreckage from the vessel was washing ashore.

    "Life jackets and debris litter the shore," Melani Rotoni, a resident, told local radio.

    "I saw a dead woman in her 40s along the shore but she was the only body I saw. There is no one else."

    Deadly storm

     

    Typhoon Fengshen, with maximum gusts of 195 kph, has killed at least 159 people in central and southern Philippines, with the western Visayas region, famed for its sandy beaches and sugar plantations, the worst affected.

     

    It pounded the archipelago, damaging thousands of houses, rice stores and displacing tens of thousands of people.

     

    The typhoon is currently over the South China Sea and is expected to move northwards towards Taiwan in the next few days.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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