38 Passengers submerged with Ferry as waves turned it upside down

Doña Paz berthed at Tacloban City in 1984. en.wikipedia.org/ Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Ormoc City, Leyte, Aug. 16, 2015

Casualties

Three more bodies were found Friday, July 3, 2015 from a ferry boat M/B Kim Nirvana that overturned in the rough waters off Ormoc Bay about 200 meters from the city’s shore, raising the casualties to 38 persons drowned with 15 others missing, according to the coast guard.

Survivors

A total of 134 people were saved Thursday, July 2, 2015 by coast guard and fishing boats personnel, including some who swam to safety off to the shores of Ormoc City, said coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo. As disclosed by Balilo two persons were included in the manifest but failed to board the ferry, decreasing the number of people to 187 from 189 as initially reported by the coast guard.

Search and Rescue

To bring the overturned ferry boat upright to its side to make it easier for searchers to find more bodies, a barge with cranes were used as told to DZBB radio in Manila by regional coast guard commander Capt. Pedro Tinampay.   Three rescue boats, a coast guard ship and a navy vessel are anchored in the rough waters by the overturned ferry. They brought the divers to the site early Friday.

Destination

Balilo said the wooden outrigger ferry was sailing out of the Ormoc port heading on its destination  to Pilar town, one of the Camotes Islands, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the south, when strong waves tossed and battered it. The captain and some crew members are held in custody for investigation, he said.

Cargo

Carrying a cargo of construction materials and sacks of rice, it wasn’t at the moment clear to the survivors and coast guard officials what caused the 36-tons motor-boat to turn upside down. The cargo’s movement  inside the ferry as battered by the waves “may have been contributory to the shift in the weight of the cargo, that’s why the boat listed”, Capt. Tinampay said.

Survivors Account

The bow suddenly rose from the water before the boat flipped over on one side, then turning  upside down and trapping passengers underneath, according to survivors who sent the distress message to AP by cellphone.

Foreigners

Three Americans and a Canadian were among the lucky survivors.   A retired fireman, 48 years old, Lawrence Drake, from Rochester, New York, said he saved a woman from drowning, including her pregnant daughter and an 8-year old boy. He saw bodies of adults and children floating in the water, and passengers were screaming in panic, Drake said.

Mary Jane, Drake’s Filipino wife, testified the motor boat was slowly getting out of the port when strong waves suddenly tossed it upside-down. “No one was able to jump out because it overturned very swiftly. There was no time to jump,” she said.

TV Footages

The nightmarish Ormoc sea tragedy was flashed worldwide through TV footages showing coast guard rescuers and army soldiers ferrrying survivors in rubber boats to Ormoc City Port, where from the site of the tragedy the bottom part of the vessel could be clearly seen rising above the sea water.

Drawback; go signal

Murky waters in the vicinity which blurred vision proved difficult for divers to look for bodies, said rescue leader, Ciriaco Tolibao. Officials said the coast guard assured that there was no cause for alarm so they gave the green light for domestic sea travel that day though the weather was cloudy at the time of the accident.   Forecasters said a developing typhoon in the Pacific was located 550 km (340 miles) east of Ormoc but was too far away from the Philippines. They said winds in the Ormoc region weren’t capable of building up dangerous waves.

Ormoc Share of Bad Weather

Ormoc, a transportation hub of about 200,000 people, is regularly visited by more or less 20 tropical storms and typhoons that originate from the Pacific Ocean yearly. Ormoc City was one of those heavily ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), one of the most destructive storms, which left in its fury more than 7,300 killed and missing and flattened towns and barangays in November 2013.

On Nov. 4, 1991, Tropical Storm Thelma (Uring) set off flash floods in the Ormoc region that killed more than 4,922 people and swept homes and vehicles into the sea.

Why sea tragedies happened

Too many storms, poorly-maintained vessels and lax implementation of sea regulations are cited as the main causes of sea tragedies in the Philippines, where old and rickety ferries are the main mode of transportation for inter-island travel.

The MV Doña Paz tragedy

On Dec. 20, 1987, the ferry MV Doña Paz brimful of passengers from the islands of Samar and Leyte bound for Manila sank in about 545 meters (1,788 ft) of water in the shark-infested Tablas Strait which separates the islands of Mindoro and Panay after colliding with a fuel tanker, M.T. Vector, carrying an inflammable load of 8,800 US barrels of gasoline and other petroleum products. Casualties as estimated by a presidential task force in January 1999 for both ships totaled 4,386, including the 11 dead from the Vector crew. Only 26 survivors were retrieved from the flaming inferno of oil-soaked water. Twenty-four of them were passengers from the Doña Paz while the other two were crewmen from the Vector’s 13-man crew. The tragedy was considered the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

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