MANILA, March 5, 2004 (STAR) Coast Guard divers found yesterday six more bodies in the ill-fated SuperFerry 14 now lying on its starboard (right) side off the coast of Mariveles, Bataan.

A total of nine bodies have already been found in the ferry’s hulk, bringing down to 125 the number of passengers and crewmen still missing after fire of still unknown origin gutted the 10,000-ton ship last week.

There were initially one dead and 134 missing in the accident, with the erstwhile lone fatality remaining unidentified.

Commodore Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard National Capital Region commander, said the six new bodies — a man, two women, one undetermined and two still being brought out of the water — were found in the middle portion of the submerged side of the ferry.

"It is the smell of the dead that is now leading us to where the bodies are," he told The STAR over the telephone.

"I was told that it is even better that we have water in the area because sometimes hand or a finger would drift out of the debris calling the attention of our divers. We hope to find more bodies. Our operations are continuous," Tamayo said.

The operation is being conducted with the help of salvage crewmen hired by SuperFerry owners WG&A Shipping Co.

Tamayo said one of the bodies was "unrecognizable" because it is headless and already in an advance state of decomposition.

The bodies bore signs of burning, although it is too early to tell the cause of death, he added.

Gina Virtusio, WG&A corporate communications officer, said none of bodies have been identified, but they have invited relatives of the missing passengers to visit the ship which is beached on Sisiman Bay in Mariveles.

Virtusio said only 93 passengers are "confirmed" missing as their families have reported their disappearance since boarding the ship in Manila.

"We are calling out through the mass media hoping that the relatives would let us know if their loved ones have returned home so that we can bring the number of missing down," he said.

Virtusio said there has been no word from relatives of the other passengers listed in the manifest.

Of the missing, two are crewmen, while the rest are passengers, she added.

SuperFerry 14 was on its way to cities of Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro when passengers heard a loud explosion early last Friday.

The large number of missing passengers has baffled rescuers as the erstwhile inaccessible portion of the submerged ship only comprised 30-percent of the entire vessel.

No body has so far been retrieved from the open sea.

Twenty-five divers are working on the site on two shifts of four hours each.

Salvage operations are also being conducted simultaneously hoping to remove the cargo or hoisting the ship upright. –Jose Aravilla

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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