LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines—Poor lashing of a bus onboard may have caused a ferry to tilt off balance and sink off Burias Island in Masbate province early Friday, killing two people and leaving four others missing.
Rescuers from the Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force saved 55 passengers and crew of the ferry MV Lady of Mount Carmel, according to Bernardo Alejandro, head of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol province.
Two of those rescued were minors, 9-year-old Alexandra Tan and 7-month-old Kyle Benguet.
Four people remained missing as of 5 p.m., according to the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard identified the passengers who died as Erlinda Jolbitado, 59, and Carlota Singa (spelled Zena by the Office of Civil Defense), 57. Both were from Pasig City.
The roll-on, roll-off ferry left port at Pio Duran town in Albay province at 2 a.m. with 57 people aboard—35 passengers (20 women and 15 men) and 22 crew members.
Alejandro said seven people were not listed on the ferry’s manifest, including the drivers and conductors of two buses and a six-wheel truck that were on the vessel.
The names of the missing remained unknown, he said.
The ferry was bound for Aroroy town in Masbate province but sank three hours after leaving Pio Duran. It went down near Burias Island, 20 kilometers across the strait.
The Coast Guard said the cause of the sinking remained unknown as of 5 p.m. on Friday.
“We will just finish the search and rescue operations then we will begin our formal investigation. But even now we are gathering facts,” said Cmdr. Armand Balilo, spokesperson for the Coast Guard.
The weather was calm and apparently did not cause the sinking, according to the ferry’s captain, Lando Mateo, who was among those rescued.
Alejandro said the authorities were looking at the possibility that a mechanical or human error caused the ferry to sink.
But Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said in a statement that he received information that the ropes used to lash one of the buses to the sides of the ferry came loose, causing the vehicle to slide to one side of the ferry, making the vessel list and ultimately lose its balance and sink.
The ferry, which regularly plied the Pio Duran-Aroroy route, is owned by Medallion Shipping Lines of Cebu City.
Alejandro said the civil defense office learned about the accident from Pio Duran Mayor Dante Arandia, who called Salceda before 3 a.m. telling him that he received a distress call from a passenger, who said the ferry began to list about 30 minutes after leaving port.
Help from Albay
Salceda ordered search and rescue teams to the site.
Coast Guard rescuers reached most of the people on the ferry about 1.6 km from shore, where the vessel sank, according to Chief Petty Officer Bayani Belesario, deputy Coast Guard commander for Masbate.
Amadeo Tan, a village chief in Aroroy, said his wife called him from the ferry when it was sinking.
Tan told a television interviewer that he alerted local authorities and set off to the area.
“When we got there, we could no longer see any part of the boat. It had already sunk,” he said, adding some passengers were in the water wearing life vests or were on a lifeboat.
Balilo said the rescued passengers and crew were taken to Aroroy.
The bodies of the two fatalities were also taken to Aroroy, Balilo said.
He said fishing boats and a sister vessel of the MV Lady of Mount Carmel, the MV Lady of the Rosary, joined Coast Guard and Navy ships in the rescue operation.
A Coast Guard vessel that was sailing to Indonesia, the BRP Pampanga, was diverted to help in the search and rescue operation, Balilo said.
Ensign John Duruin, deputy spokesperson for the Navy in Bicol province, said two Navy boats and a Navy Islander aircraft, and an Air Force helicopter helped scour the sea for survivors of the accident. With reports from Tina G. Santos and Ramon Royandoyan in Manila and AP
Originally posted: 8:08 am | Friday, June 14th, 2013