HOPE FOR A MIR­A­CLE

Slim chance of find­ing sur­vivors in Philip­pine ferry disas­ter

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Cebu, Philip­pines AFP — AP

Philip­pine res­cuers bat­tled rough seas on Sun­day in a bleak search for 85 peo­ple miss­ing in the coun­try’s lat­est ferry disas­ter, but hopes were fad­ing of find­ing any sur­vivors.

Thirty- four peo­ple have been con­firmed killed af­ter the ferry, car­ry­ing more than 800 pas­sen­gers and crew, sank al­most in­stantly on Fri­day night fol­low­ing a col­li­sion with a cargo ship out­side a ma­jor port in the cen­tral city of Cebu.

Stormy weather forced an early sus­pen­sion of the search and res­cue op­er­a­tions with a few hours of day­light re­main­ing on Satur­day, and sim­i­lar con­di­tions ham­pered res­cuers on Sun­day.

Philip­pine navy spokesman Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Gre­gory Fabic said the weather had pre­vented divers from reach­ing the in­te­rior of the sunken ves­sel, where many of those miss­ing were be­lieved trapped. But res­cuers would make ev­ery ef­fort to get in­side.

“It is pos­si­ble that there are air pock­ets in its com­part­ments and there might be sur­vivors,” Fabic told AFP, adding that peo­ple could sur­vive for 72 hours in such con­di­tions.

“There is still hope that there might just be sur­vivors there.”

The num­ber of peo­ple listed as miss­ing was sharply re­duced on Sun­day to 85 from 170 due to tal­ly­ing is­sues rather than any fresh res­cues.

The num­ber of miss­ing was cut af­ter those in­volved in the search rec­on­ciled their fig­ures, said Neil Sanchez, head of the re­gional disas­ter man­age­ment of­fice in Cebu.

Stunned pas­sen­gers were forced to jump into the wa­ter in the dark af­ter the cap­tain or­dered them to aban­don the doomed ferry.

Au­thor­i­ties were un­able to say how many peo­ple may be in the sunken ship, which is at a depth of about 30 me­ters, rais­ing hopes that the num­ber of miss­ing could be re­duced fur­ther.

Divers found the bod­ies of a man and a woman as they searched the outer reaches of the ves­sel on Sun­day morn­ing, Jaypee Abuan, a navy spokesman aboard one of the patrol craft, told AFP, lift­ing the known death toll to 34.

But stormy weather and strong cur­rents through­out the day pre­vented a full-scale div­ing mis­sion.

Abuan said res­cuers had been un­able to get into the ship’s in­te­rior by late Sun­day af­ter­noon, nearly two days af­ter the ac­ci­dent.

“The time el­e­ment is cru­cial. We need to fast- track div­ing op­er­a­tions to reach the in­ner com­part­ments,” he said.

Mean­while, navy ves­sels, coast guard per­son­nel in rub­ber boats and vol­un­teer fish­er­men scoured about 3 square kilo­me­ters of wa­ter out­side the port for any­one who may still be float­ing.

Wan­ing hope

While say­ing that all hope had not yet been lost, au­thor­i­ties cau­tioned that the odds of find­ing any more sur­vivors were low.

“We are still hope­ful, al­though you have to ac­cept the re­al­ity that their chances of sur­vival are very slim,” Sanchez told re­porters.

Sur­vivors and peo­ple with rel­a­tives still miss­ing waited at the Cebu ferry pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal and a lo­cal hos­pi­tal on Sun­day for news of loved ones.

“I can­not ex­plain what I am feel­ing. It is painful, but I con­tinue to hope,” said Nanette Condi­cion, 44, who sur­vived by jumping on to the cargo ship but lost her older sis­ter and 71-year-old fa­ther in the chaos.

“I am stay­ing here to wait for them, dead or alive. I am not go­ing to leave un­less I see both of them.”

The ships col­lided as they were trav­el­ing in op­po­site di­rec­tions at a well- known choke point near the mouth of Cebu’s port.

Au­thor­i­ties said the St Thomas Aquinas ferry sank within 10 min­utes of the crash.

The cargo ship Sulpi­cio Ex­press 7, which had 36 crew mem­bers on board, did not sink. Its steel bow had caved in on im­pact but it sailed safely to dock.

The govern­ment reg­u­la­tor the Mar­itime In­dus­try Au­thor­ity said both ves­sels had passed safety checks and were sea­wor­thy, in­di­cat­ing hu­man er­ror was to blame for one of the ships go­ing into a wrong lane.

TED ALJIBE / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Philip­pine coast guard per­son­nel ride a rub­ber dinghy to in­spect the dam­aged bow of a cargo ship on Satur­day af­ter it col­lided with the ferry St.ThomasAquinas the night be­fore off the town of Tal­isay near Cebu in the Philip­pines.

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