Tue, Jun 24, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Hope dims in the Philippines

AP , MANILA

Philippine officials refused to give up hope of rescuing some of the 800 people missing after a ferry capsized during Typhoon Fengshen, even as the still-roiling seas hampered efforts to get inside the vessel yesterday.

Divers heard no response when they hammered on the tip of the 23,824 tonne Princess of the Stars that was jutting from the water off Sibuyan Island in the central Philippines.

“We’re not ruling out that somebody there is still alive,” coast guard chief Wilfredo Tamayo said. “You can never tell.”

But strong waves that have largely kept a small flotilla of rescue ships at bay continued to pound the area yesterday, leaving officials to plan the best way to get inside — either with divers from below or by a hole that would be drilled in the hull, Tamayo said.

Rescue workers would have to operate carefully. The ferry’s owner, Sulpicio Lines, said the vessel was carrying bunker oil that could leak out.

A US Navy ship carrying search-and-rescue helicopters was expected to arrive from Okinawa, Japan, late yesterday and a P-3 maritime surveillance plane also was being dispatched.

However, hope dwindled by the hour that large groups of survivors might be found in areas where communications were cut off by the weekend storm that left at least 163 people dead in flooded communities.

While relatives waited for news, others were angry that the ship was allowed to leave Manila on Friday for a 20-hour trip to Cebu with a typhoon approaching. The government ordered Sulpicio Lines to suspend services pending an investigation into the accident and a check of its other ships’ seaworthiness.

Although Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the ferry never should have left, Sulpicio Lines said it sailed with Coast Guard approval. The company said it would give 200,000 pesos (US$4,500) in compensation to relatives of each person who died, along with financial assistance to the survivors.

Meanwhile, the Central Weather Bureau said yesterday that the approaching tropical storm would bring rain to Taiwan today.

The bureau said the storm was likely to reach the southern part of the Bashi Strait today and that it would bring heavy rain to the southern and eastern parts.

With the storm moving northward, both central and northern Taiwan would also see heavy rain, the bureau said.

Rainy weather will likely continue until tomorrow, it said. As of press time, the center of the storm was located 330km south of Dongsha Island.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHELLEY SHAN

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