Death toll in Cebu ship collision now 34
By MARS W. MOSQUEDA JR. & CARLO S. SUERTE FELIPE
CEBU CITY – Search and rescue operations continued yesterday for the 85 passengers still missing as the death toll from last Friday’s collision between a passenger ferry and a cargo ship rose to 34, authorities said.
As rescue divers continue to look for signs of lives and retrieve bodies from the sunken vessel yesterday, the Archdiocese of Cebu announced that Pope Francis has offered his prayers for the victims.
The pope sent a telegram, signed by Vatican state secretary Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, to Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma on Saturday, expressing his sadness over the tragic loss of life resulting from the collision between passenger vessel MV St Thomas Aquinas and cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete.
“His Holiness Pope Francis was deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life resulting from the ferry boat accident off the central port of Cebu. He assures all affected of his closeness in prayer and commends the victims to the loving mercy of Almighty God,” Bertone said in the telegram.
“The Holy Father invokes divine strength and comfort upon the grieving families, the injured and those involved in the rescue efforts,” he added.
As of 12 noon yesterday, the incident team, headed by Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III, announced that there were a total of 870 persons onboard MV St.Thomas Aquinas when the tragedy took place.
There were already 751 survivors, including 645 passengers and 106 crew members, and 34 fatalities. Rescuers were still searching for 85 missing persons.
The Provincial Incident Command Team is composed of the Cebu Provincial Government, the Cebu Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, the Cebu City Police Office, and other government agencies concerned.
Rescue divers yesterday pulled out two bodies, a man and a woman, from the wreckage as other rescue groups, including Korean divers, joined in the search and retrieval operations.
One diver, who refused to be identified, said he saw bodies trapped at the exit door of the sunken vessel.
“It could be that they were trying to get out but got trapped instead,” the diver said.
The retrieval operation was hampered by strong currents and the presence of oil spill in the area, said Melad of the Cebu Coast Guard. Although he said the rescue operations will continue.
“We’re not losing hope. Sometimes, miracles happen,“ he said.
Melad also told reporters that the captains of the two vessels are now in custody of their respective shipping company and that the companies have assured the Cebu Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority that they will make their captains available for any investigation.
Of the 34 fatalities confirmed, only 20 have been identified, the incident team yesterday said. The identified fatalities as of 12 noon yesterday are the following: 1. Anonat, Domingo, 67, Male 2. Ancla, Necita, 73, Female 3. Ancla Jr., Vecente, 72, Male 4. Arbutante, Antonio, 71, Male 5. Colipano, Cresenciana,75, Female 6. Butao, Lolita, 51, Female 7. Caro, Evelyn, 52, Female 8. Camanzo, Alfonso, 71, Male 9. Jobenes, Teogenes, 72, Male 10. Manalon, Armida, 59, Female 11. Escrupolo, Romulo, 73, Male 12. Durano, Cherry, 28, Female 13. Sanchez, Jane, 30, Female 14. Diaz, Joshua Rene, 4, Male 15. Balacuit, Eugenia, 66, Female 16. Maligro, Hilario, 53, Male 17. Galopee Queeni, 21, Female 18. Bonotan, Artemia, 63, Female 19. Laag, Honorata, 78, Female 20. Reynaldo Cañas
Cebu Governor Davide said the National Bureau of Investigation, the Scene of the Crime Operatives, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development will work together to help identify the fatalities.
Families and relatives of those who are still missing have trooped to the Cosmopolitan Funeral Parlor in Cebu City to take a look at the cadavers that have not been identified as of press time yesterday.
CARGO SHIP ON WRONG PATH
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) revealed that MV Sulpicio Express 7 was the one that collided with MV St. Thomas Aquinas.
DoTC Secretary Jun Abaya said in a press conference that the Sul picio vessel was not on the right path while sailing at Lawis Ledge.
“That area (Lawis Ledge) is narrow. So ship captains use a vessel traffic separation scheme which indicates the entry and exit pathways,” Abaya said.
At 8:45 p.m. Friday, Abaya explained, the Sulpicio vessel was exiting Cebu City bound for Davao.
On the other hand, the 2Go (Aquinas) vessel was entering Talisay City from Butuan City.
“What exactly happened is that the Sulpico vessel, exiting the area, hit the starboard quarter of the 2GO vessel. In layman’s term, it was hit at the back portion’s right side,” Abaya said.
“I guess the collision hit Aquinas at a very vulnerable point, which is probably along its water line or below it, causing it to sink immediately,” he added.
“We had to stop the operations by late afternoon Saturday because of the harsh weather. We don’t want to endanger the lives of our divers.”
OIL SPILL ALARMING
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) 7 yesterday revealed that the oil spill stemming from the sunken vessel has reached an alarming level as it has already affected several barangays in the town of Cordova.
The oil that leaked from MV St. Thomas Aquinas has already reached Tres Marias Island and five villages in the town of Cordova, said Anabeth Roble of the Environmental Management Bureau.
Roble, who attended yesterday press briefing, said DENR staff took several samples in areas near the sinking site and found out that the oil spill has already reached an alarming level.