Bodies trapped inside sunken Philippine ferry

June 24th, 2008 - 12:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, June 24 (DPA) Bodies were found floating inside a capsized ferry in the Philippines Tuesday as rescuers dove into turbulent seas in a desperate search for hundreds of missing in one of the country’s worst maritime accidents. “Most of the bodies were floating inside,” Navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo said. “They were trapped when the ship suddenly tilted and capsized.”

The MV Princess of the Stars was carrying 864 passengers and crew members when it sank Saturday off Sibuyan Island, 300 km south of Manila, at the height of a typhoon.

There were 81 children among the passengers.

Arevalo said navy and coast guard divers could not tell how many bodies were inside the sunken ferry, noting that it was too dark.

He said some of the bodies inside the ship were wearing life vests.

“It seems the passengers hesitated from jumping into the turbulent waters,” he said. “It happened too sudden.”

The exact number of missing in the ferry sinking could not be determined.

While rescuers earlier had recovered 68 survivors and 27 bodies, authorities said they were still verifying if all were from the Princess of the Stars. Many of the survivors were in a state of shock or had to be hospitalized for injuries.

Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard commandant, said dozens of fishing boats were reported missing when Typhoon Fengshen pummelled the Philippines last week.

“We are still consolidating the figures,” he said. “Our focus right now is searching for the missing in the Princess of the Stars.”

Authorities have refused to give up hope of finding more survivors.

“I am a very optimistic person, and we don’t want to rule out any conclusion,” Tamayo added. “We really can’t tell, and it’s better for us to find out for sure.”

The United States has dispatched a vessel with rescue helicopters and a surveillance aircraft to help in the search.

Tamayo said US experts were also providing technical assistance in the efforts to enter the Princess of the Stars, which was licensed to carry 1,992 people.

The government has grounded all vessels of the Sulpicio Lines, which owns the ferry, pending an investigation into the accident.

The company’s ships and ferries have been involved in some of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

In 1987, its passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker just before Christmas, killing 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster.

In October 1988, another Sulpicio Lines ferry sank during a typhoon, killing 250 people. In 1998, another of the company’s ships sank, leaving 70 dead and 80 missing.

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