Philippines' coast guard rescues 252 passengers, recovers 5 bodies from capsized ferry

The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed five deaths while 252 passengers, including an Australian and his Filipina wife, were rescued.
The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed five deaths while 252 passengers, including an Australian and his Filipina wife, were rescued.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

REAL, PHILIPPINES (REUTERS, AFP) - The Philippines’ coast guard said on Friday (Dec 22) it had rescued 252 passengers and crew, including an Australian and his Filipino wife, and recovered five dead people from a ferry that capsized east of the capital Manila. 

A Philippine vessel capsized on Thursday because of bad weather, highlighting frequent boat accidents in the South-east Asian nation that is composed of more than 7,000 islands. 

The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed five deaths while 252 passengers including an Australian and his Filipino wife, were rescued, said spokesman Captain Arm and Balilo. 

“All the passengers and crew are accounted for but as I have said we will re-evaluate based on the claims of the families of the missing passengers,” Balilo told Reuters. 

Filipino ferries, which seasonally brave rough seas in the Pacific typhoon belt, are notorious for overloading. The coastguard had earlier said only 251 passengers and crew were on board, but confirmed the vessel had a 286-person capacity.  Officials gave no explanation for the discrepancy but acknowledged the boat had carried more than the 251 people listed on its manifest. 

Rescuers are yet to determine how many are still missing, Efren Ritual, a rescue official in the town of Infanta, said.  “The search will continue because there are still people here looking for their missing relatives,” he told AFP by telephone. 

Local fishing boats and the Philippine navy were assisting in the search, according to the coastguard office in Manila. 

The boat left the port around 9am and capsized an hour later due to strong winds and giant waves.  A survivor said the passengers panicked when the boat started to take in water and went to one side, causing the ferry to tilt and capsize. 

“The others waited on top of the ship while it was sinking, but I didn’t do that because I know the ship will break down and I want to avoid getting hurt by that,” Rene Ebuenga, a rescued passenger told Reuters. “That’s dangerous and the big waves can slam debris to your body.”

The ferry capsized and sank about 5 miles off Quezon province, east of the capital on the main northern island of Luzon. 

The Philippine Coast Guard said it will conduct an inquiry to determine the cause of the incident and to verify possible oil spills. 

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents. In 1987, nearly 5,000 people died in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster when an overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island in the central Philippines.