Rescuers Search Missing in Philippine Ferry Fire
Saturday, February 28, 2004; 6:10 AM
By Erik de Castro and Romeo Ranoco
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine divers Saturday searched a
ferry that caught fire at sea, fearing some of the 110 missing
victims might have been trapped in their cabins.
Divers had entered the bridge of the 155-meter (510-foot)
long Super Ferry 14, which listed on its right side after it
was towed from the mouth of Manila Bay to the eastern province
of Bataan, but found nothing.
"Our divers were able to search the submerged portion. We
still can't board the dry portion because it's still hot,"
coastguard Rear Admiral Arthur Gosingan told Reuters.
By late afternoon, thin smoke drifted from parts of the
10,000-tonship. Earlier Saturday, four coastguard boats sprayed
water on the smoldering ferry to cool the vessel down.
"The ferry is not totally burned. We hope that we could
still find survivors," Gosingan said.
Gosingan, who led the rescuers, said boats, a helicopter
and a plane did not spot any survivors Saturday morning.
Relatives of the missing at the coastguard headquarters in
Manila said they feared people had been trapped in the ferry.
"I'm losing hope. It's been 24 hours," said Georgito Canaza,
who was searching for his mother.
Another relative said most of the missing passengers had
been in cabins when the fire started.
The ferry, which the coastguard said was carrying a total
879 passengers and crew, was on a journey from Manila to
Bacolod in central Philippines when the disaster struck an hour
after it left port.
The coastguard said 766 people were rescued, including 153
crew members. It listed one dead.
The shipping firm said 788 people were rescued. It listed
one dead and 110 missing.
The coastguard appealed to authorities in towns around
Manila Bay to report the appearance of survivors, many of whom
were picked up by fishing boats after they jumped into the sea
to escape the flames.
They also said they were checking if some of those listed
as missing had been recovered, but did not report to
BOMB NOT THE CAUSE
Gosingan rejected suspicion the fire had been caused by a
bomb as some of the survivors said they heard an explosion
before fire broke out shortly after midnight Friday.
Maritime accidents are common in the Philippines, and are
often caused by overcrowding on rickety craft. But the
155-meter (510-foot) long Super Ferry 14 was apparently not
overloaded and is a relatively new ship.
In the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster, more than
4,300 people were killed in a collision between the ferry Dona
Paz and an oil tanker in Philippine waters just before
Christmas in 1987.
"We are rejecting the terrorist angle as of now, unless it
is proven otherwise," Gosingan said.
The coastguard inspects boats at ports before allowing them
to sail around the country of more than 7,100 islands and he
said the inspection had found no evidence of any explosives.
"As of now, our reports show the fire started at the galley
but it's very hard to speculate. We'll know what happened once
we inspect the ship," Gosingan said.
WG&A, a consortium of three shipping lines that own the
ferry, said the fire began on an upper deck.
Replying Friday to questions about the possibility of
sabotage, Gina Virtusio, spokeswoman for the consortium, said
the owners were "leaning toward that issue."
The military is battling four Muslim rebels groups in the
south of the mainly Roman Catholic country. It is also fighting
communist rebels in various parts of the country.
Rebels have been blamed for bomb attacks in the capital as
well as various other towns and cities across the country,
particularly in the south. (Additional reporting from Pedro
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