Philippine Navy personnel search for victims in the waters
off Talisay, Cebu, after a ferry sank folllowing a
collision with a cargo vessel. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
As rescuers plucked more bodies from the sea after a
Philippine ferry and a cargo ship collided late last week,
killing at least 38 people, a vexing but familiar question
faces a country plagued by an abysmal record in maritime
safety: what went wrong?
Authorities say 82 people listed as missing are believed to
have died, trapped in the ferry that sank to the sea floor
off the central Philippine port of Cebu minutes after
Friday's collision. Divers are trying to cut into the vessel,
at a depth of 45m, and plug an oil leak.
Although a formal investigation will not begin until after
the rescue operation, attention is already turning to the
final moments in the latest fatal shipping disaster to strike
the Philippines, a country of 7,100 islands, where
over-crowded or overloaded vessels are common and sea
regulations are notoriously hard to enforce.
The MV St. Thomas of Aquinas, an inter-island ferry loaded
with 870 passengers and crew, had been at sea for about nine
hours after leaving Nasipit, a port on the southern
Philippine island of Mindanao, when it approached Cebu, a
bustling economic zone about 560 km (350 miles) south of
The yellow-hulled MV Sulpicio Express Siete, laden with
containers, had just left Cebu's port with 36 crew.
As they both entered a narrow channel about 600 yards (550
metres) wide in the dark at about 9 p.m., they appeared to
have strayed onto the same lane from opposite sides,
Under navigational rules, both vessels must steer to the
right if they are on a collision course, Commodore William
Melad, head of the coast guard district in the central
Visayas region, told Reuters.
The ferry repeatedly blew its horn and sent warning signals,
said 2GO Group Inc, which owns the ferry. "They blew their
horns several times before the collision," Bimsy Mapa,
spokesman for 2GO Group, told Reuters.
Another 2GO Group official, speaking on condition of
anonymity because a formal inquiry into the accident is
pending, said the ferry could not veer right because the
water was too shallow on that side.
"Our options were to turn right or left, but we couldn't turn
right because we would hit shallow waters so we veered left,"
the 2GO Group official said.
Officials at Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp, which owns
the cargo ship, declined to respond to requests for comment.
The vessel remains in Cebu, a gaping hole in its bow.
"We need to review whether both ships followed regulations,"
said Melad, the Cebu coast guard chief. "If they are
approaching each other, there should be a safe distance.
Otherwise, you signify intention to move to the right and the
other should move to the right also, so that there won't be
Melad said the vessels' speed would also be checked for
Tug boats typically accompany ships arriving and departing
within one km (0.6 mile) from the port, but the accident
happened four km (2.5 miles) out at sea, said Greg Castillo,
a Cebu city councillor.
Authorities have suspended passenger and cargo shipping
operations of both companies.
The cargo vessel's owners were formerly known as Sulpicio
Lines Inc, which owned the MV Dona Paz ferry that collided
with a tanker in the Sibuyan Sea in the country's main Luzon
island region in December 1987, killing 4,375 on the ferry
and 11 of the tanker's 13-man crew. That ranks as the world's
worst peacetime maritime disaster.
The St. Thomas of Aquinas sank within minutes of the
collision on Friday, but 750 people were rescued, mostly by