MANILA, Philippines - A total of 31 people have been confirmed killed in the collision of a passenger ship and a cargo vessel near the seaport in Talisay City, Cebu province, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported Saturday afternoon.
In its updated posted on its website (www.coastguard.gov.ph), the PCG said 172 passengers of MV St. Thomas Aquinas remained missing and 629 more have been rescued as of 2 p.m.
Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr., PCG's vice commandant for operations, had said that four of the bodies were recovered by divers from inside the sunken ferry, which sits 33 meters or 108 feet below sea level.
Tuason said that the divers were forced temporarily halt the search inside the sunken ship because of safety concerns.
“Nahihirapan ang mga divers kasi sala-salabat daw ang tali sa loob at baka sumabit sila at sila naman ang ma-aksidente. Pinag-aaralan pa nila kung ano ang paraan para ma-search mabuti ang loob ng barko ,” Tuason said.
The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, said that the rescue operations have been temporarly halted due to rough seas in the area.
The ferry was about to enter the sea port in Talisay City when it collided with cargo vessel MV Sulpicio Express 7 and sank in the vicinity of Lawis Ledge, shortly after 9 p.m.
The cargo vessel's 38 crewmembers have been rescued.
Bimsy Mapa, spokersperson of Aquinas owner 2Go Shipping Lines, said that the Cebu channel being used by the ships to enter and leave the port is narrow and a special traffic scheme is being implemented by port authorities to avoid accidents.
Mapa, meanwhile, declined to blame the other ship for the mishap.
"We don't want to speculate. We don't want to preempt the investigation that would be conducted by the authorities, of the Philippine Coast Guard," Mapa said.
The NDRRMC said that the rescued passengers have been given appropriate medical attention and relief assistance. It said the passengers are now staying in several hotels in Cebu.
Coast Guard officer Joy Villegas said that according to the surviving passengers, the captain of the ferry ordered the ship abandoned after it began listing and then sank after hitting the cargo vessel.
Rescued passenger Jerwin Agudong said he saw bodies on the side of the ferry as it was sinking.
"It seems some were not able to get out. I pity the children. We saw dead bodies on the side, and some being rescued," Agudong said in an interview over radio dzBB.
Agudong said the ferry was entering the pier when the cargo vessel, which was on the way out, suddenly collided with it. He said he and other passengers jumped in front of the cargo vessel.
"One of the persons who jumped with us hit his head on metal. He is shaking and he is bloodied," he said.
He said the crew of the ferry distributed life jackets while the ship was slowly sinking.
Mapa said that some of the passengers could have been in the area of the ferry that was damaged by the collision and there is a strong possibility that they have been trapped.
Accidents at sea are common in the Philippines because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.
In 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.
In 2008, the ferry MV Princess of the Stars capsized during a typhoon in the central Philippines, killing nearly 800 people. with The Associated Press