Hundreds of Ferry Passengers Still Missing in Philippines

Associated Press
Monday, June 23, 2008

MANILA, June 23 -- More than 700 ferry passengers remained unaccounted for Monday in the central Philippines, more than 24 hours after a typhoon capsized their vessel.

Hundreds of others across the sprawling archipelago were killed by Typhoon Fengshen or remained missing, and villages were flooded along the storm's violent path.

Huge waves and strong winds have confronted rescuers trying to get to the stricken ship. Coast guard frogmen got no response when they rapped on the hull Sunday night with metal instruments, before they had to return to shore because of the chop.

Rescuers may have to bore a hole in the ship to allow access for divers, said the coast guard chief, Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo. Rescuers hoped to get inside the vessel Monday, probably with U.S. assistance requested by the Philippine Red Cross.

The ferry had 626 passengers and 121 crew members on board, Tamayo said. So far, 38 people from the ferry are known to have made it to land. Six bodies, including those of a man and woman who had bound themselves together, have washed ashore, along with children's slippers and life jackets.

Manila's DZBB radio said the survivors, including four crewmen and three women, drifted at sea for more than 24 hours wearing their life jackets.

Reynato Lanoria, a janitor on the ship, survived by jumping in the water and reaching a life raft. He estimated that about 100 people could have survived, "but the others were trapped inside."

"I think they are all dead by now," he told DZMM radio.

The MV Princess of the Stars ran aground Saturday a few miles off Sibuyan Island, then capsized, said Mayor Nanette Tansingco of the Sibuyan town of San Fernando.

Lanoria said he was on the top deck when a crew member ordered people to put on life vests around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. About 30 minutes later, the ship began tilting so fast that elderly people and children fell on the rain-slickened deck.

"They're scouring the area. They're studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted," said Lt. Cmdr. Arman Balilo of the coast guard.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who arrived in the United States on Sunday, talked to officials in a teleconference aired live on nationwide radio. From Fresno, Calif., Arroyo scolded coast guard officials for allowing the ferry to leave Manila late Friday despite the bad weather.

The storm stymied attempts to reach the ship and kept aircraft at bay on Saturday before shifting course Sunday to the northwest, where it battered Manila at dawn. Major streets were flooded, and numerous traffic lights were out.

In the central province of Iloilo, Gov. Neil Tupaz said 59 people drowned and 40 others were missing. "Almost all the towns are covered by water. It's like an ocean," Tupaz said.

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