Dozens missing as ferry sinks in the Philippines

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Toll could hit 200 as divers continue search for bodies after roll-on/roll-off vessel and cargo boat collide

Hopes for survivors in a sunken ferry in the Philippines faded yesterday as rescuers suspended attempts to find some 171 passengers still missing from a collision in which at least 31 are known to have died.

The sinking of the MV St Thomas Aquinas, operated by the Manila-based 2GO Group – the Philippines' largest shipping operators – raised further questions about maritime safety in the archipelago where frequent storms, poorly maintained ships and weak enforcement of safety regulations have led to a slew of accidents.

Yesterday, further details emerged of the circumstances that led up to the sinking on Friday, while authorities warned the death toll could rise further today as stormy conditions forced rescuers to suspend their search.

The captain of the 11,000-tonne Thomas Aquinas was approaching the port of Cebu for an overnight stop on the way to Manila when he gave the order to abandon ship after the vessel – with 723 passengers and 118 crew – was hit by the cargo boat Sulcon Express 7, operated by Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) near Lawis Ledge, about 350 miles south of Manila.

The roll-on/roll-off Thomas Aquinas began "listing heavily" and sank within half an hour, said coast guard deputy chief, Rear Admiral Luis Tuason. He added that 171 passengers were still missing, with many feared to be stuck inside the vessel, now 100ft under water.

"There could be more bodies there but there were lines inside that our divers could get entangled in," said Rear Admiral Tuason yesterday, as he confirmed that four bodies had been recovered in the early hours.

The 2GO Group said that their vessel had been "reportedly hit" by the cargo ship.

Joseph Abaya, the Philippines' Transport and Communications Secretary, said the cargo ship had smashed into the right side of the ferry which had been travelling from Nasipit in Agusan del Sur province. "I guess it hit the ferry at a very vulnerable point, probably at its waterline or below the waterline so that it did not take long for it to sink," he said.

Danny Palmero, a former fisherman, responded to the ferry's distress call. He said: "We just picked up the survivors and left the dead in the water. I heard screams and crying."

One of the survivors, Jenalyn Labanos, 31, said the ferry quickly tilted to its side after the impact. She said the crash threw her and two companions to the floor of the restaurant before the lights went out. "I just thought to myself that I have to survive this. I left everything, my bag, my money and my passport," she said.

An official at the coastguard said it was "too early" to determine the cause of the collision. He said there had been foreign nationals on board, but added they were "all OK" except for a New Zealander who remained in hospital.

"We are aware of this shipping accident in the Philippines and are in touch with the local authorities," a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said in London. "We stand ready to offer consular assistance."

The company PSACC, previously known as Sulpicio Lines, operated the Dona Paz, which was at the centre of the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster in 1987 when 4,375 people died as the ship struck an oil tanker in the Philippines. PSACC vessels have reportedly figured in four maritime disasters with more than 5,300 fatalities.

Yesterday, no one from PSACC was available for comment.

"The crew distributed life jackets to the passengers and carried out emergency abandon-ship procedures," said a 2G0 Group statement. The Philippine Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) last year announced a crackdown on safety standards in ships with inspections of carriers across its critical ports – including Cebu. "People's lives are at stake," warned the Marina administrator Emerson Lorenzo.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing