OFFICIALS had abandoned hope of finding alive seven people missing from a ferry which sank last week with dozens on board, after three days of searching in strong currents.
Rescuers last week recovered two bodies from the sea and rescued 61 others after the MV Lady of Mount Carmel went down on Friday off the coast of central Masbate island, more than 300 kilometers southeast of Manila.
Regional civil defense chief Raffy Alejandro said divers had not been able to reach the sunken ferry, believed to be lying on the seabed 1,300 feet under water.
“We are shifting from rescue to retrieval. We will search only if someone spots something floating near the coastline,” he told reporters. He said they had also withdrawn some of the search and rescue vessels.
“We have done enough. We did the best we could covering all possible areas for search and rescue operations to save the precious lives of the missing passengers using planes, sea crafts including the assistance of local government units and fisherfolks but there’s no sign of life,” Alejandro told reporters.
Extensive search operations were mounted to rescue Abigail Barredo, Noan Manocan, Fe Rapsing, Leticia Andaya, Jonas Comidor, Arian Comidor and Jocelyn Danao. Officials theorized that the seven may have been trapped inside the sunken vessel.
The MV Lady of Mount Carmel, a roll-on-roll-off (Roro) vessel, departed the port of Pioduran town in Albay at 2:20 a.m. on June 14 with 66 passengers on board two air-conditioned buses of Isarog Lines and one six-wheeler Isuzu truck and 22 crewmen.
The ferry mysteriously sank in calm weather before dawn on Friday about two kilometers from Burias island.
Alejandro however said the sunken ship was in water too deep to be reached by navy divers so it could not be determined if any bodies were trapped inside.
Coast guard officials originally refused to give up hope for the missing, believing they could have swum or drifted to nearby islands.
But Alejandro said the decision to end rescue efforts was made due to lack of progress and signs of impending bad weather.
The sinking of the ferry has raised questions as it came apparently in clear weather and smooth seas. Survivors are also reported to have accused the crew of not attending to them as the ship was sinking.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippines due to poor safety standards and overloading.
The world’s deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) meanwhile said it will not ground the other vessels of Medallion Shipping Lines, owner of Mount Carmel, from sailing.
Marina Administrator Maximo Mejia Jr. said he sees no reason why his office should suspend Medallion. However, Mejia ordered the Marina Regional Office in Cebu province to order Corazon Fulache, owner of the shipping line, to explain why her franchise should not be revoked because of the incident.
“We already dispatched a team that will conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the sinking. As what the initial report showed, there’s no weather inclement at that time, so we want to know what happened,” Mejia said.
“The owner will have the time to present their case and explain why the accident happened and why their franchise will not be taken from them,” he added.
Although Mejia’s decision is in sharp contrast to his predecessors’ policy grounding a shipping line whose vessel was involved in an accident, the Marina chief said any drastic decision may affect the country’s transport of goods and cargoes. He added that there are no immediate findings or reasons to ground the fleet of Medallion Shipping.
Medallion shipping line owns nine vessels. Some of its ships sail from Bohol province to Masbate, Bohol to Cebu and Bohol to Leyte.
AFP With a report from Rhaydz Barcia and Fatima Cielo Cancel