• Ferry tragedy death count rises to 71

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    The confirmed death toll from a ferry disaster off Cebu province rose to 71 on Wednesday as hopes faded for finding any more survivors of the tragedy, authorities said.

    Divers pulled out six more bodies from the interior of the sunken ferry while body parts were found on a small island nearby, said Neil Sanchez, provincial disaster management officer.

    Discovery of the additional bodies brought to 49 the number of people still missing after the St. Thomas Aquinas ferry collided with a cargo ship off the central island of Cebu on Friday night and quickly sank.

    “If we have to assess the situation, I would say that chances are already slim of finding survivors,” Sanchez said.

    It is believed that many of the bodies of the missing are still trapped in the interior of the sunken ship.

    Strong currents and bad weather as well as the difficulty of reaching the ferry, lying at a depth of about 30 meters (98 feet) has slowed down recovery efforts.

    But Sanchez said they had made a commitment to find the bodies of all the missing.

    “The waters are rough but the divers are doing their best,” he said.

    A military helicopter continued to scour the area Wednesday for any survivors.

    As of Wednesday, 750 passengers had been rescued, according to a Coast Guard report.

    Of the six cadavers recovered by Coast Guard technical divers, four are adult females, one male child and one female child.

    The passenger ship of MV St. Thomas Aquinas owned by the 2Go group collided with MV Sulpicio Express 7 cargo ship on August 16. The passenger ship carried 870 people that sank a few minutes after collision.

    WITH A REPORT FROM SHIELA T. MAÑALAC

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