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‘Princess’ recovery operations end

199 bodies found

By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:52:00 11/11/2008

Filed Under: Sulpicio ferry disaster, Maritime Accidents

MANILA, Philippines?Divers scouring the capsized wreck of the MV Princess of the Stars recovered 199 bodies during their two-week retrieval operation that ended Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

?The [salvor firm Harbor Star] has informed our officer that they are done,? said PCG commandant Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo in a phone interview. ?They recovered 199 bodies after they scoured decks C, B and A.?

Jorge Ponce, diving supervisor of Harbor Star, said the company accomplished its target of getting the bodies out of the decks.

?They?re clean, as far as decks C, B, A and the bridge are concerned,? he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

Divers were not able to enter some areas, like the engine room, because they were inaccessible and dangerous, Ponce said.

The Princess of the Stars, owned by Sulpicio Lines Inc., sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province on June 21 when it sailed into Typhoon ?Frank? (international codename: Fengshen).

Of the 864 passengers aboard, only 57 survived. In the days following the tragedy, 350 bodies were recovered.

The number of cadavers extracted from the ship was less than half of the missing passengers, a figure that Harbor Star and government officials expected.

?We are not expecting to see 500 bodies. We would be lucky to get half of that,? Rod Bella, Harbor Star project manager, had told the Inquirer in an earlier interview.

Bella said it was likely that some of those who were still missing had jumped from the 23,000-ton ship before giant waves overwhelmed it.

Since recovery operations started on Oct. 26, the bodies were stored on the MV Tacloban Princess nearby, where a team of forensic doctors from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Interpol were waiting.

Dr. Renato Bautista, head of the NBI forensics team, said identification of the bodies will start in Cebu City and end in Sarejevo, Bosnia.

The NBI, with the help of Interpol, will process bone tissue samples from the cadavers, and compare the DNA profiles with that of the victims? family members.

Interpol is shouldering the expenses for the tests, which will be conducted in the Sarajevo-based International Commission for Missing Persons.

Bautista appealed to the victims? family members who had not given blood samples to the NBI to come forward. The doctor said they can go to any NBI office in the province and submit to a blood test.

If they live abroad, they can go to the national Interpol headquarters.

The next phase, PCG?s Tamayo said, is the removal of the wreck. Task Force Princess of the Stars has yet to discuss how to remove the 23,000-ton vessel.

Its bow, which can be seen from the shore of San Fernando, Sibuyan Island, has cast a pall over the fishing town. Task force chief Elena Bautista had announced a plan to remove the ship before the town celebrates its fiesta on Dec. 8.

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