Search continues for 5 as death toll reaches 41
ORMOC CITY: The death toll from the ferry disaster rose to 41 Friday as rescuers brought more bodies ashore to anguished families, including 10-year-old survivor Gilbert de la Cruz who wailed in despair as the corpse of his one-year-old brother was recovered.
Rough seas forced rescuers to suspend the search for five people still missing after the M/B Kim Nirvana carrying 173 passengers and 14 crewmen capsized as it was leaving Ormoc port in Southern Leyte on Thursday.
Many of the ferry disasters occur during the typhoon season between June and October, when strong winds also unleash deadly floods and landslides.
Divers stopped their search as the seawaters became turbulent, and the seabed grew murky due to bad weather from unleash deadly floods and landslides.
Divers stopped their search as the seawaters became turbulent, and the seabed grew murky due to bad weather from Tropical Storm Egay (international name: Linfa), said Chief Supt Asher Dolina, chief of Police Regional Office 8, who is overseeing the operation.
“The waves are big and it’s dangerous for our divers. The water is also silted, almost zero visibility,” he said.
Dolina said the search would resume once the weather improves.
Authorities early on Friday said they will cut the hull of the vessel to retrieve the remains of victims that could be trapped inside.
Ciriaco Tolibao of the Ormoc City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office said rescuers were unsuccessful in their attempt to turn the boat right side up.
The option to cut the hull was later set aside as rescuers decided to just tow the upturned boat into the pier.
Cebu’s four-man disaster response team joined the search and recovery operations.
“All of us are emergency responders and rapid assessment team members in a mission to support the search, rescue and retrieval/recovery,” Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office chief Baltazar Tribunalo, who heads the team said.
The team is also tasked to coordinate with LGUs in Ormoc, the boat owner and survivors for immediate and practical help. They will facilitate proper transport of survivors and casualties from Ormoc to Pilar, Camotes and other areas in Cebu.
“We are now coordinating with the social welfare office in Ormoc for the list of people who will be given assistance,” Cebu province’s Public Information Office head Ethel Natera said.
They are ready with food packs and burial assistance for the victims.
The state weather service issued a gale alert for the central Philippines early Friday, warning of turbulent seas being churned up by the storm.
Waves up to 4.5 meters (about 15 feet) high could overturn boats that try to leave the ports in these conditions, weather forecaster Gladys Saludes said.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd has ordered the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation on the incident.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President expects the coast guard to find out what caused the incident.
Valte also said that the PCG’s Maritime Casualty Investigation Team is already “pursuing various avenues of inquiry, including possible overloading, capability of the captain and its officers, load capacity of the vessel, and others.”
Valte, for her part, extended condolences to families of those who died in the incident.
“We mourn with the families of those who lost their loved ones in the incident and assure them a speedy and objective investigation,” she said.
Valte added that assistance will be extended to the bereaved families by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the local government of Ormoc, and the firm that owns the capsized vessel.
Crowds of anxious relatives waited at the port as divers maneuvered their rubber boats through the choppy waters to the upturned hull of the ferry, its brightly painted orange and green bow just poking above the surface.
As de la Cruz embraced his distraught father, hopes were fading that the boy’s mother and sister could be still alive trapped in the hull.
Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told reporters 141 survived, including all the crew, while five others were missing.
Abaya said government investigators would summon the crew to determine the cause of the accident.
“We will get to the bottom of this and make sure that this does not happen again,” he said.
The ship was on its regular run to the Camotes island group in Cebu, about an hour’s sailing away when it capsized.
Survivors have recounted how the 33-ton vessel was backing out of the port when it suddenly overturned, giving them no chance to put on life jackets.
De la Cruz said he survived by clinging to empty water drums that kept him afloat until the coast guard rescued him.
The 10-year-old said he was standing near the deck when it tilted, allowing him to jump into the water, but he was unable to look behind him to see if his family had also escaped.
“I’m very sad because I don’t know if they are still alive,” he said before his youngest brother’s remains were brought to shore.
“I am never riding a boat again,” he said, as he was comforted by his aunt whose eyes were swollen from crying.
Nicasia Degesica, a 57-year-old seamstress, waited at the port for news of her elder sister, Erlinda Rosales, while other distraught relatives checked hospitals and morgues for their loved ones.
“We’re losing hope that she is still alive, but if she’s dead at least we want to find her body,” Degesica said.
Blood seeped through one of the body bags as it was loaded into an ambulance at the port, an Agence France Presse photographer saw.
The owner of the ill-fated boat, Jorge Bung Zarco, said on Friday and expressed his willingness to submit to an investigation and to help the victims.
Zarco, a retired employee of the Philippine Coconut Authority, started his ferry service business in 2009. He claimed he was also on board the ferry when the accident happened.
He said he swam to shore and had no lifejacket on.
Zarco disclosed that that the Kim Nirvana has no insurance, but the passengers were insured. He said the kin of the dead victims are entitled to a maximum of P200,000.
Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino 4th on Friday renewed his call to investigate the seaworthiness of maritime vessels in the country in the wake of the tragedy.
“I reiterate my call to investigate whether our maritime vessels are seaworthy.
Huwag na nating hintayin maulit pa ang nangyari sa Ormoc bago tayo mag-imbestiga at gumawa ng reporma (Let’s not wait for a similar incident like what happened in Ormoc to happen before we investigate and initiate reforms),” Aquino said in a statement.
Aquino noted that his call was formalized in Senate Resolution No. 652, which he filed in 2014. The resolution calls for the investigation on the seaworthiness of maritime vessels to ensure their safe and efficient operations and avoid maritime accidents.
But he said the resolution was set aside.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Embassy in Manila issued a statement saying that they are
“deeply saddened to learn of the unfortunate capsize (sic) tragedy”
“ Our thoughts go to the families of those who have lost loved ones and our condolences go to the Philippine people. We wish them strength and fortitude during this time of difficulty and pain. We hope that the search and rescue efforts will be successful,” the statement read.
With Jefferson Antiporda and Catherine S. Valente and AFP