Death Toll in Philippines Ferry Disaster Rises to 54


The death toll after a passenger ferry capsized in the central Philippines has risen to 54, amid confusion about exact passenger numbers.

The Philippines coast guard said there may have been more people aboard the vessel than were listed in its passenger manifest.

Officially, the boat held 173 passengers and 16 crew.

Authorities had believed 187 were on board, as two crew members had not turned up for work.

But with at least 54 confirmed dead and 142 survivors, officials acknowledged it was carrying extra people and could not rule out finding more bodies.

The coast guard planned to widen its search and rescue operations today to islands and coastal villages near the central port of Ormoc where the MV Kim Nirvana overturned.

The 33-tonne boat capsized while on a regular trip to neighbouring Camotes island.

A coast guard spokesman, Armand Balilo said investigations would look at human error, and circumstances relative to the ship’s sailing.

“We are hearing about faulty manoeuvre so human error is being considered, stability, of course, weather [and] overloading,” Commander Balilo said.

Witnesses said the wooden-hulled ferry made a sharp right turn soon after it left port in Leyte province, south of the capital, Manila.

Passengers said the ferry was hit by a large wave before it overturned.

The boat captain, who is in police custody, also said strong waves caused the vessel to tip over.

Authorities said their focus would be to determine the cause of the latest in a string of deadly maritime tragedies in the sprawling archipelago of 100 million people.

“We will get to the bottom of this and make sure that this does not happen again,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told reporters.

“Is it force majeure? Is it human error? We have to know all the facts before we talk about culpability.”

Survivors all recounted how the vessel was backing out of port when it suddenly overturned, giving them no chance to put on life jackets.

Government investigators will question the vessel’s 14 crewmen, all of whom survived, he added.

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SOURCE: ABC Online, Shirley Escalante

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