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Freighter with 17 on board missing

By Jerome Aning, Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:09:00 08/09/2010

Filed Under: Waterway & Maritime Transport, Weather, Missing Persons

MANILA, Philippines?The Philippine Coast Guard was still searching Sunday for a domestic cargo ship with 17 crewmen that disappeared after encountering big waves and reporting engine trouble.

At least five Coast Guard and private vessels were involved in the search, but bad weather and poor visibility were hampering the effort, according to PCG commandant Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo.

Crewmen aboard the 498-ton SF Freighter radioed the ship?s owner, Henden Chua of Seaford Shipping Lines Inc., on Saturday to report the problems but shortly afterward, all contact was lost, Tamayo said.

The owner launched an initial search near the ship?s last known location off the coast of Marinduque province and contacted the Coast Guard, he said.

A Coast Guard plane spotted a ship Sunday in waters off Marinduque, but later determined it was not the missing freighter, Tamayo said.

Passing ships and coastal communities were told to be on the lookout for the ship, which was en route to Manila from Cebu reportedly carrying a cargo of steel bars.

Search halted for now

PCG spokesperson Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, in a phone interview, said the search for the missing vessel was temporarily called off at 3 p.m. Sunday after an Islander plane conducted two sorties but found no trace of the vessel.

The plane had to turn back after encountering bad weather. One of the PCG ships, the BRP Ilocos Norte, also returned to Batangas port because of bad weather.

?We will resume the search on Monday morning, weather permitting,? Balilo said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said it sent out on Saturday night a tugboat to tow another cargo vessel, the MT SP Beijing, which developed engine trouble in the vicinity of Cabra Island in northern Mindoro Sunday afternoon.

The 4,599-gross ton Marshall Islands-registered ship, which has 18 crew, was en route to Indonesia from China when it developed engine trouble and sent a distress signal that was monitored by the Philippine, Singaporean, South Korean and Australian Coast Guard.

The tugboat Regulus towed the ship to Batangas at around 5 p.m. Sunday.

A tropical depression, which enhanced monsoon rains and winds in the northern and central regions, moved out of the country Sunday. Ships had been warned to expect rough seas.

Princess still under the sea

Because of bad weather, meanwhile the refloating of the MV Princess of the Stars has been moved to ?either next October or November,? according to the PCG.

The ill-fated vessel sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon in June 2008 due to rough seas caused by Typhoon ?Frank.?

The refloating of the vessel ?will be done as soon as the weather changes from the southwest monsoon to the northeast monsoon,? said PCG commandant Tamayo. ?By that time, refloating of the vessel is expected to be much faster and safer too.?

?Poor sea and weather conditions were the reasons given by the salvage operator (Royal Jessan Petromin Resources Inc.) for the delay in the operations. Sea conditions will be much more stable during the last quarter of the year,? said PCG spokesperson Balilo.

He also said PCG divers had completed ?underwater search operations for human remains in all of the ship?s compartments.?

Two years and counting

According to a PCG report, a total of 47 sets of human remains had been recovered from the wreck but only 17 had matching skulls.

?Other items recovered were assorted skeletal remains and personal items, such as identification cards, pieces of clothing, cellular phones, bills and coins,? the report added.

Earlier, the PCG turned over 85 skeletal remains to the Public Attorney?s Office for forensic tests to ?determine if the recovered bones belong to one or several persons.?

PCG officials had expected to refloat the Princess of the Stars by June 15, almost two years after the ship sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon at the height of Typhoon ?Frank.?

Built in 1984, the passenger ship was headed for Cebu City from Manila when it was directly hit by the typhoon. With a report from Associated Press

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