Navy, police, Korean divers start underwater search work in Cebu

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Philippine Navy divers retrieve a body from the waters off the coast of Talisay city, Cebu province, in central Philippines Saturday Aug. 17, 2013, a day after a passenger ferry MV Thomas of Aquinas collided with a cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete.  AP

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Navy in the Visayas region formed a task force for the underwater search of missing persons in the Cebu sea tragedy.

The task force, called Task Group STAR (St. Thomas Aquinas Retrieval), which was activated Sunday, will be in charge of underwater operations, Commander Noel Escalona, operations officer in Naval Forces Central told INQUIRER.net in a telephone interview.

He said eight divers will carry out underwater searches at 2:30 p.m. and will attempt to enter the sunken ship MV Thomas Aquinas.

The technical divers, composed of four from the Navy, two from the Philippine National Police and two Korean nationals, will plunge 150 feet down for a second reconnaissance dive.  Their first recon dive was at 8 a.m. Sunday, Escalona said.

In the reconnaissance dive, frogmen will try to put markers in points of entry and exit, so they could do full retrieval operations by Monday.

“If we see bodies that we can retrieve, then we will retrieve them,” he said.

He said the oil spill from the ship would be a big challenge for them as it would affect the visibility underwater and irritate the skin of the divers.

As of latest, the Philippine Coast Guard said there were 34 fatalities, 85 missing and 751 passengers put to safety.

Weather was also sunny in Cebu, he said, even as the state weather bureau predicted cloudy skies with rains and thunderstorms until Monday. Escalona said that it usually rains in the afternoon.

He said that although it was unlikely to find survivors underwater two days after the tragic accident, air and surface rescue work will continue.

The MV Sulpicio Express 7 Cargo vessel bound for Davao City and MV St. Thomas Aquinas (2Go) passenger vessel from Butuan bound for Cebu collided off Talisay City in Cebu late Friday. Both had over 800 passengers and crew.

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