Search continues for 7 missing in ferry sinkingBy Mar S. Arguelles and Shiena Barrameda |Inquirer Southern Luzon
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines—Search-and-rescue teams failed to find Saturday any of seven people listed missing after Friday’s sinking of the interisland roll-on-roll-off ferry MV Lady of Mount Carmel off Burias Island in Masbate.
The number of missing passengers was initially placed at four then raised to 15 and finally brought down to seven after the Philippine Coast Guard and other search-and-rescue teams reconciled their records.
Rescuers from the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy and the local Bantay Dagat (Sea Watch) resumed their search at 6 a.m. Saturday, scouring the waters off Burias Island and the shorelines Aroroy and neighboring municipalities on Masbate, but failed to find any of the seven missing persons by Saturday afternoon, according to Bernardo Rafael Alejandro, regional director of the Office of Civil Defense in the Bicol region.
Alejandro said the Coast Guard placed the number of missing persons at seven after determining that there were actually 70 passengers and crew on the ship—not 57 as listed on the manifest— when the ferry departed from the port of Pio Duran, Albay, at 2 a.m. on Friday, June 14, bound for Aroroy.
Two of the passengers, both women in their 50s, were confirmed to have drowned, 61 were rescued and seven were still missing, Alejandro said.
The missing passengers were not on the manifest but were reported to the Coast Guard to have been aboard the ship by relatives, Alejandro said.
The OCD identified the missing persons as Abegail Barredo, 19, and Noan Manocan, 25, both of Mandaon, Masbate; Fe Rapsing, Leticia Andaya, 78, and Jocelyn Danao, all also from Masbate.
The PCG and the Army’s 903rd Infantry Brigade team added two names to the list of missing persons as Ariane and Jonas Comedor.
Capt. Mardjorie Panesa, spokesperson of 903rd IB, said the Comedors were added to the list Saturday morning. The relationship between the two still had to be ascertained.
Ensign John Duruin, a Philippine Navy’s spokesperson in Bicol, said that aside from the two Navy gunboats and an Islander plane dispatched to the search area, three expert divers were also helping look for the precise spot where the ferry went down.
Alejandro said the divers were having a difficult time finding the ship because Burias Pass is from 700 to 1,700 feet deep. Divers are allowed to go to a depth of only 20 feet while technical or expert divers are allowed to dive to up to 120 feet in the absence of special diving equipment.
Alejandro said that under standard procedures, search and rescue operations have to be called off after 48 hours or two days.
“Let’s see… if these seven missing are not found and their bodies don’t emerge we can recommend the termination of the search on Sunday,” Alejandro said.
As soon as the search and recover operation ends, authorities led by the Maritime Industry Authority and the Coast Guard will convene a Board of Marine Inquiry to investigate the probable cause of the sinking.
The inquiry will determine whether the sinking of the ship in calm waters was caused by “mechanical malfunction or human error,” Alejandro said.
Coast Guard personnel have also started gathering accounts from survivors who might be called in as witnesses during the inquiry proceedings, he added.
An initial report reaching the office of Albay Governor Joey Salceda, who organized the initial search and rescue effort, indicated that poor lashing of a bus the ferry might have caused the vessel to list and then sink.