At least three people were killed and 24 others were missing on Christmas eve after a passenger ferry smashed into a fishing vessel off the coast of Maragondon town in Cavite, near the mouth of Manila Bay.
Tragedy struck when the wooden-hulled MV Catalyn B collided with the steel-hulled FV Anatalia northwest of Limbones Island at around 2:25 a.m. Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard said.
The island is about 5 kilometers from the Maragondon mainland.
The ferry, which came from North Harbor in Manila on its way to Lubang Island in Occidental Mindoro, was carrying 59 passengers and 14 crew members.
Twelve passengers were aboard the deep-sea fishing vessel that was on its way from the Turtle Islands to the Navotas Fish Port.
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, three bodies, including that of a woman in a life vest, were retrieved from the waters by Coast Guard teams on the site, said the Coast Guard spokesperson, Cmdr. Armando Balilo.
Two of fatalities identified
The fatalities have been identified as Beverly Cabinillo, 34; Relly Morales, 71; and Wellmar Tanayan.
Forty-six passengers from the capsized Catalyn were rescued. However, the Coast Guard said 24 others remained missing out of the 73 who were known to be aboard the passenger boat.
Anatalia, a 360-ton ship, sustained minor damage.
Coast Guard divers started to scour the depths of the accident site as there were reports that some passengers were trapped inside the ferry, according to Coast Guard Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo.
?Accidents do happen and we never can tell when it will happen. Unfortunately, it happened a day before Christmas,? Tamayo said at a press briefing.
Luis Tuason said a marine inquiry would establish which of the two crews was at fault. All but one of the crew members have been accounted for, he added.
Tuason, who will head the board of marine inquiry, said Catalyn, owned by San Nicolas Shipping Lines, hit Anatalia on its right side.
Coast Guard officials said they could not yet determine which vessel was to blame for the collision.
Tuason noted that Catalyn had the right of way according to nautical regulations. Anatalia was supposed to pass on Catalyn?s left side to give passage to the ferry.
But the fishing boat continued on its course, which directly blocked Catalyn?s path, Tuason said.
?Why did Anatalia continue on its way? They have to explain that,? he said.
Under such circumstances and according to maritime rules, a vessel, despite having the right of way, should take the initiative to veer away from the other boat.
The Coast Guard has yet to determine if Catalyn tried to veer away from Anatalia.
Tuason said the captains of the two vessels did not make contact as they approached each other. Officials of the two boats, he said, should explain their failure to communicate.
Tuason said the crash did not stem from malfunctioning engines or weather disturbances.
Lt. Cmdr. Neil Azcuña, captain of the Coast Guard vessel that brought the survivors to Manila, said the Catalyn captain, Tony Faminia, had admitted that it was his boat that hit Anatalia.
The passengers were given life vests, but there were still many travelers trapped inside the ferry, which sank less than 10 minutes after the crash, according to Azcuña.
Heavy maritime traffic
The site of the accident has heavy maritime traffic, according to Balilo.
Vessels passing these waters are often on the lookout for other ships, thus Coast Guard officials were baffled why the captains of Catalyn and Anatalia did not communicate with each other.
Limuel Fabula, general manager of San Nicolas Shipping Lines, said that Catalyn was on the right side of the nautical lane and that Anatalia should have avoided Catalyn.
?We were on the correct lane,? he told the media yesterday. ?Our captain tried to avoid them. They should not have passed on our right side, but on our left.?
San Nicolas Lines will help the survivors and the families of the fatalities, according to Fabula. Those who have relatives who died in the accident stand to receive P200,000, he said.
Senior Insp. Matias Montefalcon, Maragondon police chief, said a mother and child were the first to be rescued and were brought, along with the other survivors, to the headquarters of the Coast Guard in Manila.
He said there were children who remained missing. All crew members of Anatalia were rescued.
Ferries form the backbone of mass transport in the archipelago of 92 million people.
Officials say bad weather, poor maintenance, overcrowding of vessels and lax enforcement of regulations have contributed to disasters, and water voyages in the busy Christmas period are particularly fraught with danger. (See list of maritime disasters on this page.)
The world?s deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred south of Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holiday makers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,000 people.
In June 2008 another ferry sailed into a typhoon and tipped over off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.
Series of tragedies
A series of tragedies have struck the Philippines over recent months.
In September, the first of two powerful tropical storms battered the nation, claiming more than 1,000 lives and wreaking devastation across large swaths of the country.
In November, 57 people were slain in an election-linked massacre in Maguindanao.
And more than 47,000 people are facing Christmas in evacuation camps and temporary accommodation around Mount Mayon in Albay province, as the rumbling volcano threatens a violent eruption.