2 dead, 12 missing as RORO ferry sinks

Celso Amo, Cet Dematera - The Philippine Star

LEGAZPI CITY – Two people drowned and at least 12 others remained missing last night after a passenger ferry sank in calm seas off Burias Island early yesterday.

Office of Civil Defense (OCD) regional director Raffy Alejandro said responding rescue workers and fishermen managed to initially pluck 55 people out of the water where the M/V Our Lady of Mt. Carmel sank off Barangay Peñafrancia in Burias.

The two fatalities were identified as Carlota Zena, 59, of Baleno town; and Erlinda Julbitado, 59, of Binangonan, Rizal.

One of the survivors, the ship’s captain Mateo Gregorio, said the roll on, roll off (RORO) vessel tilted and sank after one of the passenger buses on board came loose from its chain and nylon mooring.

“He said it happened so quickly. The ship just went down in the darkness,” Alejandro said, quoting Gregorio.

Gregorio, however, denied allegations that the ship developed engine trouble, saying it had just passed maintenance checkup.

“We are now ruling out bad weather and overloading as possible causes of the sea tragedy because the weather was fine and the ship has a capacity of about 200 passengers,” Alejandro said.

The ship was reportedly carrying two Isarog passenger buses and a six-wheeler cargo truck laden with oxygen gas tanks. Its manifest listed 35 passengers and 22 crewmembers.

“Based on the manifest sent to us by the owner of M/V Carmel, of the 35 passengers, 21 are female and 14 are male. Four of them have ages below 13 years,” Alejandro said.

Lt. Col. Julian Pacatan, 9th Infantry Battalion commander based in Burias Island, said they rescued 58 people from the sea.

“Thirty-one passengers, 22 crewmembers, five bus conductors were rescued. Four are still missing while two bodies have been recovered,” said Pacatan, who is supervising the military’s search and rescue operations.

Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo added the initial figures they gathered indicate the number of people on board the ship was more than that declared in the ship’s manifest. He said the working total number of passengers as of early afternoon yesterday was 61.

Of the 55 rescued, 14 were crewmembers of the ship.

Authorities, however, are still trying to determine whether some of the unlisted passengers are among the missing.

There is a possibility that the drivers of the two buses and their assistants, along with those from the six-wheeler truck that were loaded on board the ship, were not accounted for in the manifest.

Officials, however, noted there was no overloading since the 98.36-gross ton ship is licensed to carry 220 passengers.

The Carmel was reportedly owned and operated by Medallion Transport, a company based in Cebu.

Alejandro agreed the ferry was not overloaded as it made its regular journey of about four hours between Albay and Masbate.

The vessel left Pio Duran Port in Albay at around 2 a.m. and headed for Aroroy, Masbate.

Initial reports said Carmel sank three kilometers off Ponta Agua lighthouse at about 5 a.m.

Alejandro said the Philippine Coast Guard in Bicol received a distress call from the ship some 30 minutes later, or about three hours after it sailed.

He said the rescue teams from the Coast Guard, Bantay-dagat, Philippine Navy, and local fishermen immediately went to the area.

Fishermen on small outrigger motorboats were among the first to arrive on site and saved many lives, said regional Coast Guard deputy chief Bayani Belisario.

“They were floating in their life jackets and the rescuers picked them out of the water,” Belisario said.

He added several people from the sunken ship were able to make the long swim to the shores of Burias on their own.

The M/V Lady Rosary and the M/V Miraculous Medal, sister vessels of the ill-fated ship, also rushed to the scene and were able to ferry the rescued passengers to a hospital in Aroroy for treatment.

Another passenger vessel, the M/V King Frederich, also helped in the rescue operations.

Most of the passengers were wearing their life vests when rescued.

“Our search and rescue operation is still continuing,” Alejandro said.

He said local government units and volunteer groups are helping in the search for the missing passengers.

The Navy sent in helicopters, divers and rescue teams to help in the search.

Coast Guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said MCS vessels, also operated by the Bureau of Fisheries of Aquatic Resources, were also deployed to help in the search and rescue.

The regional police also sent policemen to provide security and assistance to the survivors.

The Aroroy municipal health office provided medical services and assistance.

Jennifer Toquero, Aroroy rural health physician, said most of the survivors suffered from jellyfish stings.

Some of them, Toquero said, were administered antibiotics to prevent aspiration pneumonia after ingesting seawater with petrol.

Toquero said all of the survivors were traumatized.

“We advised them to go to the nearest clinic or hospital when they feel dizzy, experience difficulty of breathing or feel they want to throw up,” Toquero said.

The youngest survivor was a seven-year-old and the oldest, Danilo Agbayani, a 62-year-old from Pasig City.

The seven-year-old had to be rushed to Masbate provincial hospital for emergency treatment, she said.

Toquero said most of the survivors were taken into the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the town. –  Evelyn Macairan, Jaime Laude











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