28 rescued, over 800 missing in Philippine shipwreck (Lead)

June 23rd, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

Manila, June 23 (DPA) Twenty-eight passengers and crew members of a ferry that sank in stormy seas in the central Philippines were found alive as rescuers Monday continued to search for more than 800 missing people, a police official said. Senior Superintendent Fidel Posadas said the 28 survivors reached the shores of Mulanay town in Quezon province, 150 km south-east of Manila, aboard an inflatable life raft from the capsized MV Princess of the Stars.

Posadas said local authorities were coordinating with Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ill-fated ferry, to turn over the survivors.

The recovery brought the number of survivors from the ferry sinking to 32, with six confirmed killed and more than 800 still missing, according to the Coast Guard and Sulpicio Lines.

Coast guard and navy rescuers scoured islets and coastal towns near Sibuyan Island, 300 km south of Manila, where the Princess of the Stars sank Saturday, in hopes of finding more survivors. Additional rescue ships were also dispatched by the coast guard and the navy on Monday.

“Our teams are ready to scour the area to find if there are more survivors,” said Lieutenant Armand Balilo, coast guard spokesman. “There are even divers and equipment to go under the ship if the weather permits.”

The life raft that reached Mulanay initially carried 30 people, but two fell overboard during the rough journey, Posadas said.

Susan Lesbo, one of the survivors, told local television that they were able to successfully manoeuvre their life raft to shore because some of their companions were seamen.

“We were successful because the seamen knew how to manoeuvre the raft,” she said.

Jonathan Rendo, another survivor, added that they all helped each other through the harrowing ordeal.

“We knew that we had to be strong together because if not, we will all die,” he said, holding back tears.

On Sunday, four survivors were found in San Fernando town on Sibuyuan Island.

The 24,000-tonne Princess of the Stars sank after running aground due to huge waves and strong winds spawned by Typhoon Fengshen, which left at least 156 people dead.

Attorney Manuel Espina, a spokesman for Sulpicio Lines, said 724 passengers and 121 crew members were aboard the Princess of the Stars when it sank.

The Philippine Coast Guard has reported only 626 passengers aboard the vessel.

Sea travel is a major mode of transportation in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands.

The Philippines was the site of the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster in 1987, when more than 4,000 people perished in a collision between the ferry Dona Paz and an oil tanker off the central island of Mindoro just before Christmas.

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