Tue, Dec 16, 2008 - Page 5 News List

More than 50 dead, missing as Philippine ferry capsizes

DEADLY SEASSunday’s tragedy is only the latest of a series of maritime accidents to hit the nation, the most serious of which left hundreds dead in June

AFP , MANILA

At least 23 people were killed and 31 others reported missing after a ferry capsized in the northern Philippines, the coast guard said yesterday.

The vessel, Maejan, carrying at least 102 passengers, was on its way from the island of Calayan to the country’s main island of Luzon late on Sunday when it was hit by large waves, said coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Gary Gimotea.

Two coast guard rescue boats and a search plane have been dispatched to the area to search for the missing, the coast guard said. Civil defense officials said however that heavy seas were hampering search efforts.

Forty-six survivors have been rescued from the area where the boat capsized, just off the town of Ballesteros, the coast guard said.

The boat was approaching the port of Aparri in northern Luzon when it got caught in a powerful current and began drifting into rough waters, the coast guard said.

Earlier coast guard reports said 28 people had been killed, but officials said a “double-checking” of the tally showed the number of confirmed dead was lower than first reported.

Among the dead is a one-year-old boy, the civil defense office said, adding that the area is known for its strong waves and currents.

Gimotea said initial reports indicated the boat was overloaded when it set off. The ferry’s maximum capacity was not immediately clear.

Gimotea said they were looking into reports that the engine malfunctioned, causing the vessel to drift in the current.

Witnesses were quoted in local television reports saying strong waves shattered one of the boat’s outriggers, making it vulnerable to capsizing.

A special marine board will be convened to investigate, Gimotea said, but added: “At the moment, we are concentrating on search and rescue.”

The capsizing was the latest in a string of maritime accidents to hit the archipelago.

Late last month at least 42 people died when a ferry was hit by a freak whirlwind in the central Philippines.

In June, the 23,000-tonne Princess of the Stars, carrying 850 passengers and crew, capsized after hitting a reef off the central island of Sibuyan.

Only 57 passengers and crew survived in the country’s worst maritime disaster for 20 years.

Many Filipinos are forced to rely on poorly maintained ferries — usually just large motorboats with outriggers — as the main form of transport between islands.

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