Nine dead, at least 30 missing after Philippine ferry sinks
926 rescued; why ship listed violently unclear
MANILA - Passengers leapt into the dark sea and parents dropped children into life rafts from a stricken ferry carrying nearly 1,000 people after it sank in the middle of the night in the southern Philippines.
Nine people died and more than 30 were missing yesterday, although rescuers saved about 900 terrified victims on the Superferry 9 after it turned on its side 9 miles off Zamboanga del Norte Province.
The vessel’s violent rotation roused frightened passengers from their sleep and sent many jumping in the darkness into the water, coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.
Many aboard panicked as the huge ferry listed, said passenger Reymark Belgira. He said he saw parents tossing children to people on life rafts below, but he could not immediately jump himself.
“I held on to the ferry for hours until daybreak. I couldn’t jump into the water in the dark,’’ Belgira said.
Rescuers transferred 926 of 968 passengers and crewmen to two commercial ships, a navy gunboat, and a fishing boat, Tamayo said. A search was underway for 33 missing people.
A coast guard statement said rescue efforts were continuing through the night.
Passenger Roger Cinciron said he felt the ferry tilting at about midnight but was assured by a crewman that all was well. About two hours later he was awoken by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he told DZMM radio.
Navy ships were deployed and three military aircraft scoured the seas, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. American troops providing counterterrorism training to Philippine soldiers in the region deployed a civilian helicopter and five boats, some carrying paramedics, to help, US Colonel William Coultrup said.
Teodoro said two men and a child drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. The bodies of two other passengers were later plucked from the sea by fishermen, the coast guard said, adding that three people were injured.
The cause of the listing was not clear. The skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, vice president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry.
There were reports that the 7,268-ton vessel listed to the right because of a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said.
Aerial photos from the navy showed survivors holding on to anything as the ferry tilted. Others climbed down a ladder on the side as a lone orange life raft waited below.
The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was to arrive in Iloilo City in the central Philippines later yesterday but ran into problems midway, Tamayo said.