Volunteers search near the damaged cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete a day after it collided with a MV St. Thomas Aquinas off the waters of Talisay city, Cebu province Friday Aug. 16, 2013. AP/Bullit Marquez

CEBU CITY, AUGUST 19, 2013 (PHILSTAR) Volunteers join the search for passengers of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas that sank off Talisay, Cebu late Friday night after colliding with M/V Sulpicio Express 7, whose bow was damaged as a result of the impact. AP CEBU, Philippines, Philippines – Seafarers recognize the dangers of the narrow passage, and many ships have had minor mishaps there.

But no one was prepared for such a major disaster, when a ferry collided with a cargo ship and sank within 30 minutes, many of its passengers – including 58 babies – asleep.

Rescuers aboard helicopters and speedboats yesterday desperately scoured rough seas amid stormy weather for 171 people missing from a ferry that sank off the coast of Talisay, Cebu.

M/V St. Thomas Aquinas sank when it collided with a cargo ship, M/V Sulpicio Express 7, on Friday night in calm waters in the vicinity of Lawis Ledge, said to be a disaster-prone area.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said 630 people had been rescued as of 2 p.m. and 31, including children, were confirmed dead.

A photo taken by The Associated Press shows a three-month old baby among those rescued.

Fifty-eight babies were among the passengers, and it was unclear how many of them survived.

The owner of the ferry, 2GO Shipping Lines, said the ill-fated vessel had 723 passengers and 118 crewmembers.

The enforcement office chief of the government’s Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Arnie Santiago, said Lawis Ledge is a well-known danger zone because of its narrow passage. “Many ships have had minor accidents there in the past. But nothing this major,” he said.

“There is a blind spot there and each ship passing through needs to give way in a portion of that narrow strip,” Santiago added.

Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy said Lawis Ledge, with its strong current and narrow passage bordered by rocks, is a “maritime disaster prone area.” He said the area is also very deep at 120 feet.

Sitoy said all vessels going to Cebu have to pass through the area, which is getting narrower because of several reclamation projects in the area.

“If we have ports in other areas, then vessels have a wider choice,” he said.

Death toll could rise

Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, vice commandant of the PCG, told dzMM radio there were hopes that some of the missing had been picked up by fishermen who had joined in the rescue effort, or were still at sea.

But Tuason said he expected the death toll would climb substantially. “Yes, that will still be a big number,” he said.

“The captain managed to declare abandon ship and they distributed life jackets, but because of the speed by which it went down, there is a big chance that there are people trapped inside,” he said.

Two of four sea marshals from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Navy were among those missing.

The cargo ship, owned by Philippine Span Asian Carrier Corp. (PSACC), formerly Sulpicio Lines, with 36 crewmembers on board, did not sink, but its bow cracked open as a result of the collision.

Divers from the PCG and the Philippine Navy recovered four bodies as they combed through the sunken ferry yesterday.

Tuason said four volunteer technical divers were sent to Cebu yesterday afternoon to help in the recovery operations.

Navy Lt. Jim Alagao, Central Command spokesman, said search and rescue operations were suspended due to rough seas and would resume at daybreak today.

‘More people trapped’

“Our assessment is that there may be more people trapped inside the vessel,” PCG spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said.

Fisherman Mario Chavez said he was one of the first people to reach passengers after the ferry sank.

“I plucked out 10 people from the sea last night. It was pitch black and I only had a small flashlight. They were bobbing in the water and screaming for help,” he said.

“They told me there were many people still aboard when the ferry sank... they told me many were sleeping. There were screams, but I could not get to all of them. It was difficult to find them. I felt really bad,” he said.

Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry’s owners, told Cebu radio dySS the vessel was sailing into port when it collided with the cargo ship.

“The impact was very strong,” she said, adding that the ferry sank within 30 minutes of the collision.

Survivor recalls horror

Maribel Manalo, 23, recounted to her brother the horror of suddenly being plunged into the cold water in darkness, and emerging from the chaos without her mother.

“She said there was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking,” the brother, Arvin Manalo, told AFP.

“They quickly strapped on life jackets and then jumped into the dark sea. She said they felt like they were pulled under. My sister said she pushed our mother up, but they got separated,” he said. “My sister was rescued. My sister knows how to swim, but my mother does not.”

He said their mother, 56, remained missing.

Investigation to come later

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the investigation to determine who was at fault would come later, noting that the government’s focus is on search and rescue operations.

Tuason said it appeared one of the vessels had violated rules on which lanes they should use when traveling in and out of the port. He said the captain of the M/V Thomas Aquinas was among those rescued, and was being questioned.

Capt. Reynan Bermejo was rescued by fishermen and taken to the PCG’s search and rescue vessel.

Initial information reaching the PCG headquarters showed that the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas came from Nasipit, Agusan del Norte and was headed to Cebu while the 9,691 gross ton M/V Sulpicio Express 7 from Cebu was headed to Davao.

The impact reportedly caused a hole on the rear section of the starboard of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas. The bow of the cargo ship was also damaged.

Oil spill

Tuason said they are also dealing with the fuel that leaked from the ferry.

“Early yesterday morning we have detected oil coming out from the vessel. We also plan to surround the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas with oil spill booms but we do not know where to anchor the oil spill boom because its anchors can only be lowered to 100 feet and this would not reach the depth where the vessel sank, which is 108 feet,” he said.

Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag advised residents near the area to wait for an advisory from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources if the marine products in the area are safe for consumption.

“If the oil spill reaches the shoreline, residents are advised not to come near it,” he said.

Tayag said those involved in rescue operations should wear “personal protective equipment as petroleum chemical may be harmful to health.”


Meanwhile, US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. offered condolences to the families of the victims.

“On behalf of the US embassy, I wish to offer my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of the ferry M/V Thomas Aquinas,” Thomas said in a statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you as you grieve the loss of life that resulted from this tragedy,” he said.

Congressional review

Kabataan party-list Rep. James Ridon sought a congressional review of MARINA’s performance.

Ridon, member of the House committee on transportation, said he would also file a resolution next week seeking an investigation into the sea collision.

“The fact that we are allowing 40-year-old ferries like M/V St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that something is amiss in the supervision and regulation of water transport vessels in the country. A rigorous review of MARINA’s performance as a regulatory body is in order,” he said.

He said the franchise of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas should be cancelled if neglect has been proven.

Sen. Grace Poe also sought a thorough investigation into the tragedy, even as she called for assistance for the victims.

“We will get to the bottom of how this tragedy happened, who must be held responsible and the need for urgent reforms,” she said. – Evelyn Macairan, Gerry Lee Gorit, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica, Sheila Crisostomo, Freeman News Service

All Sulpicio, 2Go ships suspended (philstar.com) | Updated August 17, 2013 - 5:57pm 41 239 googleplus8 5

Authorities said the collision between 2GO passenger vessel MV St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express 7 occurred at Lawis Ledge at around 8:45 p.m. Hundreds of passengers of the 2GO passenger vessel MV St. Thomas Aquinas had to jump into the water as the ship began to sink. A total of 692 passengers and crew members were reportedly on board the vessel

MANILA, Philippines - The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) on Saturday ordered all ships of Sulpicio Lines and 2G0 Shipping Lines grounded following the deadly mishap in Talisay City, Cebu.

Marina chief Maximo Mejia Jr. said the ships were suspended so they can be inspected by the authorities.

The Marina immediatley started an investigation after passenger ship MV St. Thomas Aquinas sank following a collision with cargo vessel Sulpicio Express 7 in waters near the seaport of Talisay City on Friday night.

At least 31 people have been confirmed killed and 172 passengers remained missing as of 2 p.m.

Mejia, meanwhile, said that they have already checked the papers of the two ships and "found all certificates are in order."

"There is no reason to believe that the incident has anything to do with questions of stability of structural integrity of the ships,” he said.

However, he said that all of the ships of the two companies should still be subjected to rigid inspection to ensure their trustworthiness.

“It was also decided that the immediate inspection be reinforced by a suspension order of all the ships belonging to the two companies and many of these ships are still out at sea but the directive is for these ships be immediately inspected as soon as they arrive in port,” Mejia said.

He said he has instructed all Marina regional chiefs to lead the inspection of the ships.

Mejia said that further investigations will be conducted to determine which ship was responsible for the mishap.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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