PALAWAN, December 23, 2003  (STAR) Seventy-five people, six of them children, were reported missing after a 63-ton motorized ferry sank in the sea between Palawan and Tawi-Tawi on Sunday.

The passenger-cargo ship M/L Piary, which was also carrying 140 sacks of dried coconut meat, sent a distress call on Sunday morning to the Coast Guard station at Brooke’s Point in Palawan, saying it was taking in water through a hole after encountering strong winds and rough seas.

Departing from Mapun in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi on Saturday, the Piary was heading for Brooke’s Point when it went missing.

Commander Geronimo Malabanan, Navy spokesman, said two vessels and an aircraft were sent to help search for the missing ferry, but bad weather was hampering the search. The names of passengers were unavailable.

Quoting reports reaching Navy headquarters in Manila, Malabanan said the Navy ship BRP Liberato Picar, which was docked at Brooke’s Point, monitored the distress signal from the Piary at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Naval auxiliary units and fishing vessels from Palawan were also assisting in the search and rescue operations, he added.

Two other vessels were also reported missing yesterday morning. One of them was later found wrecked after hitting a reef in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental.

No casualties were reported.

Maj. Restituto Padilla, Air Force public information chief, said the hull of the 48-meter MV/ Explorer had cracked wide open.

The second vessel, the MV/ Oceanic went missing for more than an hour yesterday morning after answering the distress call from the Explorer, he added.

Padilla said the Explorer had come from Sablayan, while the Oceanic had left port in Anilao, Batangas, and that both vessels were probably headed for resorts near Sablayan.

The two vessels were found by an Air Force Sikorski helicopter after dropping a search and rescue team off the coast of Sablayan, he added.

Naval reconnaissance aircraft from Palawan were unable to locate the Piary from its last plotted location about 60 nautical miles off Brooke’s Point, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard spokesman said that naval vessels of the Piary’s size would normally have at least 10 crew.

Two Coast Guard vessels and one Navy ship were battling rough seas in an attempt to reach the last reported location, while a second aircraft was conducting a new aerial search.

"The current sea condition is very rough due to strong northeasterly winds prevailing in the area at this time of the year," the Coast Guard said.

"This somehow hampers the ongoing (search and rescue) operation as the rough seas and strong winds posed much danger to small vessels," it said.

Incessant rains and strong winds last week triggered floods and landslides in the Visayas and Mindanao that killed up to 214 people.

Earlier this month, a ferry that had been reported missing in Mindanao was found drifting in waters off Indonesia’s

East Kalimantan region. — Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sandy Araneta, Rainier Allan Ronda, Jose Aravilla, AP, AFP

20 rescued from ferry disaster off Palawan 12/23 11:32:47 AM

MANILA (AFP) - Twenty passengers and crew from a sunken Philippines ferry have been rescued by a Malaysian cargo ship, leaving 55 people still missing, the Navy said here Tuesday.

The cargo ship Pacific Valor, en route to Sandakan in Malaysia from China, plucked 20 survivors from the Sulu Sea off the western island of Balabac near the Malaysian border, Navy spokesman Commander Gerry Malabanan said.

The Philippines flagged ferry, the 63-ton Piary, sank in bad weather off Balabac on Sunday. It was carrying 68 passengers and seven crew members.

A Philippine Navy ship was scheduled to meet up with the Pacific Valor early Tuesday to take the unidentified survivors, Malabanan said on DZRH radio.

The ferry accident was the latest pre-Christmas disaster to hit the central Philippines, which was still digging up the dead from a series of landslides in other islands that were estimated to have claimed more than 200 lives.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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