1 confirmed dead, over 200 missing in ferry disaster

(2nd UPDATE) AT LEAST one passenger is confirmed dead while over 200 others are still unaccounted for after a passenger ferry caught fire off Manila on Friday, GMA 7's "Frontpage" said in an updated report.

The report said the victim has not been identified.

Quoting WG&A officials, the report said there were 899 people aboard the SuperFerry14 that was headed towards Bacolod City and Cagayan de Oro province. It said 155 were crewmembers while 744 were listed as passengers.

The report said at least 661 were rescued while at least 237 were still unaccounted for in the disaster that struck shortly after midnight Friday.

An Agence France-Presse report quoted Aboitiz spokeswoman Gina Virtusio as saying that discrepancies in the list were "something that will be cleared up when we are able to match the names of those rescued and those in the manifest."

She said she was optimistic that those missing were still alive and rescued by the numerous fishing boats and commercial vessels that reached the stricken ferry ahead of the coast guard.

"While the rescue was ongoing, the captain impressed to us that they all disembarked and were transferred to the vessels around," Virtusio said, adding "we have an anticipation that more (survivors) will be coming up."

Coast guard deputy commandant Rear Admiral Danilo Abinoja said the fire was caused by "an explosion of undetermined origin," in the engine room but would not speculate what might have caused it.

Abinoja said it was possible there were more dead bodies on the burning vessel but insisted "it is too early to say," that the death toll would go up.

The fire broke out in the 10,192-ton ferry shortly before 1:00 a.m. (1700 GMT) as it passed Corregidor Island on the mouth of Manila Bay, some two hours after leaving the capital for the central Philippines.

Eight coast guard and naval vessels as well as government helicopters, commercial ships and fishing boats are scouring the area for survivors or casualties.

Some of the injured arrived at the coast guard headquarters on the dockside, their faces almost burned beyond recognition. A line of waiting ambulances sped the victims away.

The ferry was still smoldering as it was towed by a tugboat to Bataan province, just north of Manila, while boats with firehoses fought to put the fire under control.

Christie Cayetona, one of the rescued passengers, recounted being woken up by a loud explosion from her bunk below deck.

"We rushed toward the main deck," she told Manila radio station DZRH by telephone aboard a rescue vessel. "There was smoke all over."

US Marines taking part in joint annual war games at the nearby coastal town of Ternate provided rubber boats for Philippine Navy frogmen leading the rescue efforts, said
Philippine Navy spokesman Captain Gerry Malabanan.

The Superferry 14 was built to carry a maximum of 1,672 people, the company said. It had been in service for three years.

The fire was the latest mishap to hit one of the inter-island ferries that are the backbone of maritime transport in this archipelagic nation.

These ferries, often small, poorly maintained and overloaded, are vulnerable to sea collisions or rough water, resulting in several fatalities every year.

More than 4,000 were killed in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker off central Mindoro Island in 1987. 

(First update at 3:13 PM, posted originally at 11:16 AM)

27/02/2004

Bron : Inq7.net

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