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Death toll in ferry sinking climbs to 8

PCG exec says no ‘overloading;’ discrepancy in passenger list subject of probe

LUCENA CITY—The bodies of three men and a woman were found off the waters of Mauban town in Quezon province recently, bringing to eight the number of fatalities in the sinking of a ferry bound for Polilio Island on Dec. 21.

According to a report from the local police, which was confirmed by the Infanta Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO), the three men were found near Cagbalite Island in Mauban on Dec. 23.

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Ron Crisostomo, Infanta DRRMO chief, identified them as Edgar Bovier, Odilon Azul and Hector Rey Escara, who, he said, were passengers of MV Mercraft 3, which sank in Infanta town.

Police also reported the recovery of the body of a woman on Dec. 24 along the shores of Barangay San Jose, also in Mauban. The woman had yet to be identified but authorities believed she was one of the missing ferry passengers.

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Crisostomo said the number of missing passengers was down to 11 following the recovery of the four bodies. He said the Infanta DRRMO’s list identified 249 survivors from the ferry sinking.

Lt. Cmdr. Victorino Acosta, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chief in northern Quezon, belied reports that the ferry exceeded its passenger capacity when it left port in Real town.

“There was no overloading,” Acosta told the Inquirer by telephone.

PCG officials said the ferry had a maximum capacity of 286 passengers.

Acosta said PCG records showed that the ferry had 251 passengers and seven crew members, or a total of 258 people, when it sailed for Polilio. The PCG did not say how many people died in the accident.

A report from Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) on Dec. 22 showed that Mercraft 3, which was scheduled to leave Real port at 6:15 a.m. on Dec. 21, was allowed to proceed later as it awaited clearance from the PCG amid bad weather.

At 10 a.m., while the ferry was navigating in poor visibility, it struck what Marina described as a “metal fishing buoy,” causing it to take in water and sink.

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Conflicting figures

Acosta said the PCG was investigating the ferry sinking and continuously validating the list of passengers due to conflicting figures.

“There are other claims [on the] number of passengers and survivors. We’re validating all information and figures,” he said.

Juanito Diaz, acting Quezon DRRMC chief, said an investigation was needed as his list provided by the PCG showed only 219 passengers, which included 12 children.

“The list looks like [it was] tampered with,” he said, without elaborating.

But Diaz noted that the document, called “master declaration of safe departure,” had the PCG letterhead and was properly received and validated.

“The names of the passengers were all duly signed,” he said.

He said they received the list from the PCG only on “Friday night or Saturday morning,” more than a day after the accident.

Acosta did not refute the existence of Diaz’s list.

“That was the list submitted to us by the ship captain. But it was only an initial manifest,” he said.

He said the existence of the initial manifest would be explained in the investigation.

Acosta said the 251 passengers on the PCG list were counted by their personnel.

Diaz said the confusion could have been avoided had the PCG furnished the DRRMC with a passenger manifest containing 251 names.

“But we don’t have that list,” he said.

Coast Guard probe

Acosta said the ship captain, whom he did not identify, had submitted himself to PCG investigation.

He said PCG personnel in Real were ready to face any investigation.

“We’re also open to possible recount and another tallying of the passengers,” he said.

But Acosta raised the possibility that some of the passengers in the manifest were not among those who died or survived the accident.

“We received information that some of those passengers already listed in the manifest decided to disembark at the last minute,” Acosta said.

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