RESCUE teams resumed their search for survivors Friday after a ferry carrying more than 250 passengers capsized, with at least five people confirmed dead.
Malacañang said separate probes have begun into the accident that occurred in rough waters off Real town in Quezon Province, in the main island of Luzon, on Thursday.
The 206-ton Mercraft 3 had been given the green light to sail to Polillo Island as Tropical Storm “Vinta” gathered pace over the southern Philippines nearly a thousand kilometers away, as there were no storm alerts in the local area, the coastguard said.
But a survivor told local radio that the ferry was forced to stop at sea due to large waves and strong winds, before it started taking in water from the bow and tipped over.
Filipino ferries, which seasonally brave rough seas in the Pacific typhoon belt, are notorious for overloading.
Some 252 people have so far been pulled to safety, with the death toll up to five.
The coastguard had earlier said only 251 passengers and crew were on board, but confirmed the vessel had a 286-person capacity.
Officials gave no explanation for the discrepancy but acknowledged the boat had carried more than the 251 people listed on its manifest.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Friday confirmed that five bodies were recovered while 252 others were rescued off Quezon.
Romina Marasigan, NDRRMC spokeswoman, said: “All were accounted for including all passengers and the crew members, 252 rescued and five reported dead. Four of them were already identified while the other one’s identity has yet to be confirmed.”
Number of missing unknown
Rescuers have yet to determine how many were still missing, Efren Ritual, a rescue official in the town of Infanta, said.
“The search will continue because there are still people here looking for their missing relatives,” he told Agence France-Presse by telephone.
Local fishing boats and the Philippine navy were assisting in the search, according to the coastguard office in Manila.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.
The latest incident occurred 30 years after another Philippine ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker in a pre-Christmas accident south of Manila that claimed more than 4,000 lives in the world’s worst peacetime disaster at sea.
Palace: Probe underway
Malacañang on Friday said investigations were underway into the capsizing of the fast ferry off Quezon province. It did not go into details.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the government was “saddened” by the “unfortunate incident.”
“Our coastguard had immediately conducted search and rescue operations for the crew and passengers of the ferry following the tragedy,” Roque said in a statement
“Investigations have started to determine what caused this sea mishap even as we call on our transport officials to exercise due diligence in the performance of their duties especially with the expected huge influx of travelers to the provinces this holiday season,” he said.
WITH DEMPSEY REYES AND CATHERINE S. VALENTE