MANILA - A group of 28 ferry passengers and crew washed ashore after drifting at sea for more than a day from the site where a typhoon capsized their ship and left most of the hundreds aboard missing and presumed dead, officials said today.
Manila's DZBB radio said the survivors, 20 male passengers, four women, and four crewmen, drifted at sea for more than 24 hours wearing their lifejackets, reaching Mulanay Township in eastern Quezon Province late yesterday. Coast guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo announced early today that they had been found, raising the number of survivors to 38. All were discovered after making it to land.
Tamayo said rescuers may have to bore a hole in the ship to allow divers access to the area where many aboard the ferry were believed to have been trapped.
Coast guard frogmen who managed to get to the stricken ship got no response when they rapped on the hull with metal instruments, then had to give up late yesterday due to the strong waves. The ship carried more than 740 passengers and crew.
"They're scouring the area. They're studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted," coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Commander Arman Balilo said.
Rescuers hoped to get inside with US assistance requested by the Philippine Red Cross. Typhoon Fengshen has killed at least 163 people across the archipelago, setting off landslides and floods and knocking out electricity.
Six bodies, including those of a man and woman who had bound themselves together, have washed ashore, along with children's slippers and life jackets.
About two dozen relatives went to the Manila office of ferry owner Sulpicio Lines. Some wept as they waited for news.
"I'm very worried. I need to know what happened to my family," said Felino Farionin, his voice cracking. His wife, son, and four in-laws were on the ferry, which was going from Manila to Cebu.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo talked to officials in a teleconference aired live on nationwide radio yesterday, scolding coast guard officials for allowing the ferry to leave Manila late Friday despite the bad weather.
Reynato Lanoria, a janitor on the ship, estimated about 100 people could have survived, "but the others were trapped inside."
"I think they are all dead by now," he told DZMM radio after making it to shore by jumping in the water and reaching a life raft.
Lanoria said he was on the top deck when a crew member ordered people to put on life vests around 11:30 a.m. Saturday. About 30 minutes later, the ship began tilting so fast that elderly people and children fell on the rain-slickened deck.
Passenger Jesus Gica also worried that many people were trapped below when the ship listed.
"There were many of us who jumped overboard, but we were separated because of the big waves," he said. "The others were also able to board the life rafts, but it was useless because the strong winds flipped them over."
The ferry initially ran aground a few miles off central Sibuyan island Saturday, then capsized, said Mayor Nanette Tansingco of Sibuyan's San Fernando. With the upturned ferry visible from her town, she appealed for food, medicine, and embalming fluid.
The nearly 24,000-ton ferry was "dead in the water" after its engine failed around noon Saturday, Tamayo said.