DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines—A passenger vessel ran aground on Thursday, after being hammered by strong winds and waves spawned by tropical depression Auring, but all 228 passengers—many of them students returning to this university town from the holidays—were rescued unharmed, authorities said.
“Auring,” the first weather disturbance of the year, slammed across Davao Oriental at midnight Wednesday and plodded across northern Mindanao, causing flooding that sent 90 families fleeing to safer ground in Dipolog City, the National Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said.
An unidentified boy gathering driftwood was swept away in a swollen river and was declared missing, according to Mayor Edgardo Timbol of Kapalong in Davao del Norte.
The MV Zamboanga Ferry of the Cebu-based George and Peter Lines arrived from Zamboanga City and was docking at the Dumaguete port about 9 a.m. when the winds blew it off its course and brought it close to Dumaguete’s Rizal Boulevard.
Capt. Anelito Gabisan, deputy commander of the Philipine Coast Guard (PCG) Central Visayas District, said the 850-ton vessel then ran aground about 15 meters from the port.
Initial efforts to drag the boat to deeper waters to enable it to restart its engines failed after the ropes tied to a forklift broke.
It took rescuers seven hours to bring 194 adults, 11 infants and 23 children to dry land on board life rafts, Gabisan said.
Georgia Felice Chiongbian-Rama, George and Peter Lines vice president, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that all passengers had disembarked to safety by 4 p.m.
Many of the passengers were students of Dumaguete’s four universities who were returning from their Christmas break.
The rescued passengers were given first aid at the Boulevard and were taken to the passenger terminal of the Philippine Ports Authority.
“We were so afraid for our lives a while ago. Now, I can say we’re all OK,” said a grandmother from Manjuyod town who was traveling with her three grandchildren.
CPO Crispin Chiong of Philippine Coast Guard said ship captain Roland Villarin recommended that they wait out the storm’s fury and dock only after the winds and waves had subsided.
Zamboanga Ferry is a roll-on roll-off ship weighing 851 gross tons with 14 crew members on board.
Caused by bad weather
In a statement, Rama maintained the incident was caused by bad weather spawned by tropical storm “Auring.”
“There is no truth to some reports that there was engine failure or that the ship ran aground, otherwise the vessel would not have been able to maneuver out of the port area,” Rama said.
She said the ferry was maneuvering to dock at the Dumaguete port at 9 a.m. when strong gusts of wind estimated to be 34 kph cut the mooring tiles. The winds and waves kept pushing the vessel toward the pier, she said.
To avoid collision with the pier, Villarin decided to maneuver the vessel out of the port area, Rama added.
She explained that the boat captain wanted to wait until it was safe to dock.
“Unfortunately, strong winds pushed the vessel out to the Boulevard area where it is at present so we had to anchor down and quadruple-tie the vessel to Pier 6 to avoid hitting the Boulevard,” Rama said.
Auring developed into a tropical depression and placed Dumaguete and the southern part of Negros Island as well as Siquijor under storm signal number 1 at 10 a.m.
Auring, aided by the northeast wind, or amihan, caused strong winds that resulted in strong waves that were dangerous to boats, said weather specialist Oscar Tabada of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) based on Mactan Island, Cebu.—With reports from Carine Asutilla and Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas