COAST GUARD DIVERS PENETRATE BURNED FERRY

MANILA, March 8, 2004 (STAR) Coast Guard divers searching for bodies in the gutted hulk of SuperFerry 14 off Mariveles, Bataan gained entry into the ship’s debris-blocked portion yesterday.

Commodore Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard National Capital Region commander, said his men had fished out seven more bodies floating inside the half-submerged vessel after entering through a hole they had cut through the hull.

"The good thing about the removal of the debris from the new hole is that we can finally go deeper into the ship and search for bodies," Tamayo said in a telephone interview.

His men had cut four holes through the ship’s bulkheads, and right into the previously inaccessible portion in the tourist accommodation, he said.

The Coast Guard has retrieved 24 bodies so far from the SuperFerry 14, with 110 still missing out of 899 passengers and crew. The ship caught fire near Corregidor last Feb. 27 while sailing to Bacolod City from Manila.

Coast Guard commandant Vice Adm. Arthur Gosingan said investigation into the fire by a 10-man Board of Marine Inquiry is set to begin Thursday.

Ferry captain Ceferino Manzo will be among the first to testify. He has not yet issued a statement as to what happened shortly before the fire past midnight when most passengers were asleep, or 40 minutes later when he gave the order to abandon ship.

Heavy debris is blocking the entrance to 20 percent of the 10,000 ton ship, which is lying on its starboard (right) side off Mariveles.

No body has yet been recovered in the open sea despite a search of the waters off Corregidor and Bataan, where some passengers are believed to have jumped into the dark.

Of the recovered bodies, only 11 have been identified: Cristy Rubico, 24; Clynn Paculba, 16; Marilou and Tor Pamonag; Perlita Canasa; Emilia and Benito Asumbrado; Nelson Juarez, 46; Marilyn delos Santos; Mary Jane Bueno, 19, and Juanita Tu, 66. — Jose Aravilla


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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