At least 31 dead as boats capsize in monsoon-hit Philippines

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in a report that 12 remained missing, while 59 had been rescued.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in a report that 12 remained missing, while 59 had been rescued. PHOTO: EPA - EFE

MANILA - At least 31 people died after three boats capsized, as the south-west monsoon stirred huge swells and powerful gusts across a busy waterway in central Philippines on Saturday (Aug 3).

Twenty bodies were recovered in rough seas on Sunday (Aug 4), Captain Armand Balilo, the Coast Guard’s spokesman, told reporters, citing field reports. That added to the 11 who were plucked out of the water on Saturday.

Police said some of the bodies recovered were still wearing life vests.  A child was among the dead.

The state-run Philippine News Agency released an image of rescue divers placing two corpses, one still wearing a life vest, atop the only parts of one boat still above water.

The Office of Civil Defence said in an earlier report that 26 had died, five people remained missing, and 55 had been rescued.

A small ferry carrying 43 passengers and four crewmen capsized after it ran into a squall at around noon along the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait, some 450km south of the capital Manila. Eleven of the passengers drowned.

At almost the same time, another boat capsized. It was not carrying any passengers and all five of its crew survived.

Three hours later, a third ferry – with 44 on board – flipped over after it was buffeted by sudden wind and powerful waves. Twenty passengers died.

Survivors recounted how the sky suddenly turned dark midway through their trip. This was followed by a sudden violent gust of wind and rain.

Authorities yesterday questioned why a third ferry was allowed to sail about three hours after two others overturned in bad weather.

All three boats were motorised, wooden outriggers used to ferry tourists and locals to small islands.

A tropical storm has been stoking the south-west monsoon, bringing heavy downpours and thunderstorms across the upper half of the Philippines.

It is still 1,000km from the country’s coast, and it is not expected to make landfall.

Manila ground to a halt last Friday (Aug 2), as rainfall flooded many of the city’s main roads.

Further south, in the Visayas, a region of large island provinces, the south-west monsoon has stirred huge swells in the open ocean and gale-force winds.

About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippines each year, making the archipelago that lies on the Pacific typhoon and earthquake belt one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.