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Air search on for Cebu sea mishap survivors

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A cluster of life rafts is seen floating near the cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete Saturday Aug. 17, 2013, a day after the cargo ship collided with a passenger ferry off the waters of Talisay city, Cebu province in central Philippines. AP

MANILA, Philippines – At least three helicopters were deployed for the air search for survivors of MV St. Thomas Aquinas on Sunday, a Philippine Coast Guard official said.

Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo, PCG spokesman, said one of their helicopters and two others from the Philippine Air Force were searching for the survivors of the Cebu sea mishap since Saturday.

As of 7 a.m. on Sunday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council  official count included 33 dead, 169 missing and 629 rescued passengers. However, a later news report said an additional two bodies were retrieved by the Philippine Navy.

“There is possibility that some are still alive, those who drifted to farther parts of the sea. We are conducting air search for these kinds of circumstances,” said NDRRMC Executive Director Eduardo Del Rosario in a Radyo Inquirer 990AM interview.

Balilo told Inquirer.net that technical divers, including four volunteers from Philippine Technical Divers, are waiting to get the deck plan from the passenger ship’s captain, in order to assess the situation.

Del Rosario said various government agencies, as well as volunteer organizations, were aiding the local government of Cebu in the search and rescue operations.

On Friday night, MV Aquinas of 2GO Shipping Lines collided with Sulpicio Express 7 and sank off Talisay City, Cebu.

“It is difficult to speculate [who is to blame] because both sides will claim that the other is responsible. So we really have to wait for the result of the investigation. But based on the general situation, it was the cargo vessel of Sulpicio that hit the rear of MV St. Aquinas,” Del Rosario said.

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