Tue, Dec 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Ferry with 68 passengers still missing off Manila

AP , MANILA

A search for a missing ferry carrying 68 people turned up no trace yesterday, one day after the ship sent word that it was taking on water and sinking southwest of Manila, officials said.

The 63-ton vessel Piary left on Saturday from Mapun in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, a cluster of islets in the Sulu Sea, and was bound for Brookes Point on Palawan island, 710km southwest of Manila, the coast guard said.

The coast guard station at Brookes Point said the ferry radioed its distress call about noon Sunday from some 100km away, to say water was coming through a hole in its wooden hull.

The vessel was carrying 68 passengers, including six children, and an unknown number of crew.

The Philippine navy said the ferry started sinking shortly after sending the distress call. The passengers and crew had been preparing to abandon the ship and board a life raft, a navy statement said.

Navy and air force search aircraft have found no trace of the vessel or the survivors. The coast guard said the sea in the area is "very rough" at this time of the year.

Also yesterday, air force spokesman Major Restituto Padilla said the force had received sketchy reports that another vessel had capsized in the Pacific Ocean about 335km east of the northern Philippine province of Isabela.

He said it was not clear what type of vessel was involved, where it was headed and when it capsized.

The area was "too far for our helicopters" to reach, he said.

Earlier this month, a ferry that had been reported missing in the southern Philippines was found drifting in waters off Indonesia's East Kalimantan region.

Ferries are the chief means of transportation between islands in remote areas in the southern Philippines. Most are poorly maintained and don't carry much safety gear.

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