Four people were killed and 23 were missing yesterday after two boats collided in darkness near Manila during the Christmas holiday rush, the latest disaster to hit the Philippines in a year of tragedy.
Four bodies, including that of a woman in a life jacket, were pulled out of Manila Bay following the early-hours collision between a passenger boat and a deep-sea fishing vessel, the coastguard said.
Three of the bodies were found floating near the submerged wreck of the Catalyn B, a wooden-hulled passenger vessel that sank after it rammed into the fishing boat at 2:25am.
A fourth body was retrieved mid-afternoon, coastguard spokesman Commander Armando Balilo said, giving no further details.
A swift emergency operation in the busy waterway saved 46 people but as dusk approached 13 hours later, there were fears that 23 of the 73 people known to be aboard the passenger boat had been trapped while asleep.
“Catalyn B smashed into the side of the fishing vessel,” regional coastguard chief Commodore Luis Tuazon said.
“This is a small vessel with a single wooden hull. Water rushed in and the vessel sank not long after the collision,” he told local radio.
“It is clear there was a problem in observing the rules,” he added, saying that one of the vessels must have failed to take evasive action to avoid a collision.
Tuazon said a marine inquiry would establish which of the two crews was at fault. All but one of the crew members are known to have survived, he said.
The other vessel — a 369-tonne fishing boat named Nathalia — was damaged but later helped in the rescue, spokesman Balilo said.
The accident happened as the Catalyn B was making its way to Lubang island, southeast of Manila. It sank to a depth of 67m, and officials said they were awaiting divers to check the wreckage for more bodies.
The Nathalia was on its way back to a port in northern Manila after a fishing trip in the southern Philippines, and sustained no casualties, the officials said.
A coastguard statement said an air and naval search was continuing, with other private ships diverting from their course to join the rescue.
Ferries form the backbone of mass transport in the archipelago nation of 92 million people.
Officials say bad weather, poor maintenance, overcrowding of vessels and lax enforcement of regulations have contributed to disasters, and water voyages in the busy Christmas period are particularly fraught with danger.
The world’s deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred south of Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,000 people.
In June last year another ferry sailed into a typhoon and tipped over off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.
A series of tragedies have struck the Philippines over recent months.
In September, the first of two powerful tropical storms battered the nation, claiming more than 1,000 lives and wreaking devastation across large swathes of the country.
Last month, 57 people were slain in an election-linked massacre in a lawless region in the country’s south.
More than 47,000 people are facing Christmas in evacuation camps and temporary accommodation around Mount Mayon, south of Manila, as the rumbling volcano threatens a violent eruption.
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