ORMOC (Philippines) • Anguished families wept over the bodies of dead relatives as the search for survivors from the Philippines' latest ferry disaster ended with 45 confirmed deaths, officials said.
All 187 people who were on board the Kim Nirvana have been accounted for, with 142 confirmed to have survived, Philippine Coast Guard's spokesman, Commander Armand Balilo, said yesterday.
The 33-ton boat capsized in a calm sea several hundred metres from Ormoc city port on Thursday while on a regular trip to neighbouring Camotes island.
Seven bodies were retrieved from the ship's upended wooden hull yesterday, including that of a one-year-old boy. His brother, Gilbert de la Cruz, 10, who survived the disaster, wailed over the dead infant's remains, which had been placed in a black body bag.
"There is no more hope for survivors," Mr Ciriaco Tolibao from the city's disaster risk reduction and management office told ANC television. As the search ended, the authorities shifted to determining the cause of the latest in a string of deadly maritime tragedies in the sprawling archipelago of 100 million people. "We will get to the bottom of this and make sure that this does not happen again," Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told reporters.
NO REPEAT OF TRAGEDY
We will get to the bottom of this and make sure that this does not happen again.
MR JOSEPHEMILIO ABAYA, Transportation Secretary
"Is it force majeure? Is it human error? We have to know all the facts before we talk about culpability."
Government investigators will question the vessel's 14 crewmen, all of whom survived, he added.
Survivors all recounted how the vessel was backing out of the port when it suddenly overturned, giving them no chance to put on life jackets. The young survivor Gilbert, comforted by his equally distraught father, said he survived by clinging to empty water drums. They kept him afloat until he was rescued by the coast guard.
The boy said he was standing near the deck when it tilted, allowing him to jump into the water.
But he was unable to warn his mother and two siblings. All of them died. The father was not on board the boat.
"I am never riding a boat again," he said, as he was comforted by an aunt whose eyes were swollen from crying. Divers briefly stopped their search in the morning as the waters became choppy because of tropical storm Linfa, which was set to brush past the northern Philippines later yesterday, said Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina, one of the ground commanders.
The state weather service issued a gale alert for the central Philippines early yesterday, warning of turbulent seas churned up by the storm. Waves up to 4.5m high could overturn boats that try to leave port in these conditions, said weather forecaster Gladys Saludes.
Poorly maintained, loosely regulated ferries are the backbone of maritime travel in the South-east Asian nation, with many sea disasters occurring during typhoon season in the second half of the year.
Frequent accidents in recent decades have claimed hundreds of lives, including the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster in 1987 when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, leaving more than 4,300 dead.
The disaster-plagued Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms each year, many of them deadly.