Cebu-bound boat tips over after leaving port of Ormoc
At least 38 people were killed after a passenger ferry with 173 passengers and 16 crew on board capsized in rough waters off Ormoc City, Southern Leyte, past noon of Thursday, a disaster-monitoring official said.
Rescue boats picked up dozens of survivors who clung to the overturned wooden hull of the 33-ton MB Kim Nirvana about a kilometer from the port of Ormoc, Ciriaco Tolibao from the city’s disaster risk reduction and management office said.
The ferry was bound for Pilar, Camotes Island, in Cebu and was reportedly carrying sacks of cement and rice aside from passengers.
Many of the passengers were traders bringing farm produce and other merchandise to Camotes Island, whose residents rely mostly on fishing, Tolibao said.
Just a small section of the boat’s underbelly, surrounded by rescue boats, was visible above water by late afternoon of Thursday.
“Some clung on to the hull of the overturned vessel, while some were rescued while swimming toward the shore,” Tolibao said.
Divers were scouring the murky waters searching for survivors inside the ferry, he added.
A radio report said 21 people were missing while GMA News put it at 70.
Tolibao, however, could not say how many were still missing or had been rescued but an earlier media report said 118 were plucked from the waters.
An initial report from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said the boat capsized some 10 minutes after leaving port.
It cited an account by the boat’s skipper, Warren Oleverio , who said the Nirvana was hit by big waves when he tried to maneuver toward the open sea.
“[The captain seemed to have failed to stop the boat from listing, causing it to capsize. But investigation is ongoing],” Capt. Pedro Tinampay, PCG district commander, said.
Tinampay added that the ferry was not overloaded, as it could accommodate a total of 178 passengers.
“[People were said to have moved to one side of the boat],” he said.
Authorities were puzzled how the accident had happened in relatively calm waters, after initial reports of choppy seas, and discounted speculation that it was overloaded.
“There wasn’t any storm or any gale. We’re trying to find out [why it happened],” Coast Guard spokesman and Commander Armand Balilo said.
He added that the boat’s outriggers apparently broke in the accident and it was possible that the crew had committed a navigational error
Vegetable trader Reynante Manza, 45, cried as he recounted how the vessel suddenly rolled to one side as it reversed course shortly after backing out of the pier of Ormoc, pulling down his wife and many others under the water.
“It rolled while attempting to turn around swiftly. I am alive because I jumped overboard as soon as it happened,” Manza told reporters.
A distraught male survivor wept openly as the crew clad in blue brought him ashore, as others, looking shaken, recounted their ordeal to officials.
A nearby row of survivors squatted on the pier awaiting attention, while medical workers placed the injured onto stretchers and relatives of the missing screamed and cried nearby.
The Coast Guard confirmed that it was engaged in search-and-rescue activities but could give no further details of the operation.
Frogmen (divers) from the Cebu-based Naval Forces Central (Navforcen) were sent to reinforce the rescuers.
“The rescue and/or retrieval operations will all depend on the situation of the water current in the area,” Lt. James Reyes, spokesman for Navforcen, said
The recovered casualties as well as those injured were taken to four hospitals in Ormoc City.
The youngest casualty is a three-year-old girl.
Cebu Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale told The Manila Times that they are sending social workers to Ormoc to attend to the needs of the survivors, many of whom were from Camotes Island.
With JAIME R. PILAPIL, FRANCIS EARL A. CUETO and AFP