A few days after the ferry disaster took place in Talisay, Cebu, Pope Francis sent a telegram of condolence to Archbishop Jose Palma, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), expressing his deep sadness for the loss of lives.
The telegram signed by Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, stated that the Holy Father is giving an assurance of his ‘prayers and close solidarity’ with those affected by the tragedy.
He also commended the victims “to the loving mercy of Almighty God.”
“The Holy Father invokes divine strength and comfort upon the grieving families, the injured and those involved in the rescue efforts,” the letter read.
On Friday night, Saint Thomas Aquinas collided with a cargo ship of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., formerly named Sulpicio Lines. The cargo ship with 36 crew on board did not sink.
The death toll from a ferry disaster in the Philippines rose to 52 on Monday as more bodies were pulled from the water, the Coast Guard said.
Divers and patrol boats were continuing to search for 68 other people still missing after the St Thomas Aquinas ferry collided with the cargo ship on Friday night and quickly sank near Cebu.
Navy and Coast Guard divers have been struggling against strong currents to enter the wreckage of the ferry, which is about 30 meters under water.
The latest confirmed death toll rose from 38 on Sunday night.
No details were immediately given as to how or where the extra bodies were recovered.
However an AFP reporter witnessed one bloated body, which had been found floating in the water, being towed to shore by a coastal patrol boat on Monday morning.
A group of Filipino seafarers said the tragedy could have been averted had government listened to their plea to conduct a thorough investigation of all ships in the country, and check on the competence of the crew manning the ships.
United Filipino Seafarers president Nelson Ramirez made the statement amid the continued search and rescue operations on the ill-fated Thomas Aquinas, which sank 27 minutes after it got hit by the Sulpicio Express 7 cargo ship.
He said that the collision could have been avoided with a timely and thorough inspection of all local fleet to determine their seaworthiness and adherence to maritime safety.
”After the sinking of M/V Our Lady of Mount Carmel last June, UFS recommended the suspension and grounding of other vessels to check whether they are implementing the International Safety Management (ISM) Code but it was not done,” Ramirez said.
Two people died after MV Mt. Carmel sank off Burias Island. Marina Administrator Maximo Mejia Jr. came under hot water after he initially refused to immediately suspend the operations of the ship, citing economic reasons especially for the owner, but gave in a few days later after the company failed to show several documents.
Ramirez said it is clear that the incident was mainly due to the “incompetence” of the crew.
“This recent collision is a clear case of crew incompetence. In that area there is a Vessel Traffic Separation Scheme,” he said.
REPORTS FROM AFP, ROBERTZON RAMIREZ, FRANCIS EARL CUETO AND SHEILA MAÑALAC