CEBU-ILOILO FERRY SINKS, 450 MISSING
Cebu City, Dec. 23, 1999- Hundreds are feared dead in the sinking of a ferry carrying more than 600 passengers and crew members from Cebu to Iloilo early this morning in the waters off Bantayan Island.
Around 200 passengers and crew were rescued by a passing cargo ship, MV John Dexter, but there was no immediate word on the fate of the others. The body of a woman was recovered.
The MV Asia South Korea left Cebu City for Iloilo City last night and sank near Bantayan Island early Thursday off, said Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado.
Jonji Gonzales, a spokesman for ship owner Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, said it carried 606 passengers, many heading home for the holidays. Mercado said the ferry had 52 crew members.
The John Dexter crew radioed that they saw the ferry listing on its left side with no lights minutes before it disappeared into the water. Crew members said they were hesitant to get closer to the ferry for fear of being smashed into it by large waves, Regoya said.
Reports from Bantayan indicated strong winds and fog in the area, 300 miles southeast of Manila.
Regoya told the Coast Guard the ferry's third mate - Warlito Sobreo, who was among the survivors - said a big wave swamped the ferry, knocking out the ship's lights.
Sobreo said the crew distributed life vests and immediately launched life rafts, loading them first with children.
Regoya said the John Dexter suspended rescue and sought shelter near a small isle off Panay island west of Cebu because of big waves.
A Nepalese student, Gurung Sundip, said 12 of his classmates at the Cebu Doctors College boarded the ferry, and there was no word about them. The group, eight women and four men, were planning to vacation in the island resort of Boracay, north of Iloilo.
The local Coast Guard chief, Commander Franklin Llanto, said the ferry's departure had earlier been delayed three hours after inspectors found it carried 80 passengers more than its allowed maximum capacity of 614.
Philippine navy ships and military helicopters were helping in the search and rescue.
In the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster, the Dona Paz ferry collided with a tanker on Dec. 20, 1987, killing 4,341.
In October 1988, 250 people were killed in the sinking of the Dona Marilyn. In September last year, the Princess of the Orient sank with 505 people aboard, leaving at least 150 people dead or missing. All three ships were owned by Sulpicio Lines.
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