Death at sea

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — A FERRY traveling from General Santos City to Iloilo stalled early yesterday morning and after several hours sank in rough waters in Siocon Bay near the Zamboanga Peninsula.

Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo, Navy spokesman, said three of four initial fatalities from the sinking of SuperFerry 9 were taken aboard MV Myriad, a rescue vessel sent by the ship’s owner Aboitiz Transport System. It was learned later only two were taken by MV Myriad, the rest were brought onto Navy and commercial ships that responded to the stricken vessel’s distress signal.

At 3 p.m. yesterday, however, Philippine Coast Guard commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said the number of dead had risen to five. The missing was pared down from 88 to 63 and 905 passengers and crew were accounted for.

A possible oil spill was also feared as the ship was reported carrying a cargo of fuel oil. The ship’s owners however gave assurances steps were being taken to prevent the spill.

Arevalo said the Philippine Air Force deployed two helicopters and one OV-10 plane to assist in the search. The Philippine Army and the US AIR force assistance group based in Zamboanga also sent helicopters to search for missing passengers and crew. The Navy officer said SuperFerry 9 disappeared completely into the sea at 8:30 a.m.

According to Tamayo, initial investigation showed that the ship left General Santos City at 8:45 a.m. Saturday and was heading for Iloilo when it began having problems with its generator.

In a press conference, Tamayo said that as of 11:55 a.m. authorities said 84 people were still unaccounted for.

Citing initial reports, Tamayo said that SuperFerry 9 had problems when its generator “went on and off.” Authorities said they would investigate the cause of the sinking as soon as search and rescue operations are over.

In May this year, more than 900 passengers of the Superferry 9 were left stranded off Camiguin province after the vessel’s engine conked out, Tamayo said.

According to an ATS update at 1 p.m. yesterday, rescue operations are ongoing for missing passengers and crew. It was unclear whether the ship was empty or still had people on board when it sank.

All rescued passengers and crew will be brought to the Zamboanga City port. Assistance including medical treatment, hotel accommodation and transport shall be provided for the ship’s passengers and crew, the company said.

SuperFerry 1 is estimated to arrive in Zamboanga City tonight to transfer passengers to Iloilo and Manila.

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and Communication said it will order SuperFerry 9 skipper Captain Jose Yap to explain the sinking of his vessel.

DoTC Secretary Estelito Mendoza also asked Aboitiz to pay the families of the dead P200,000 each and each of the injured P40,000.

Andrew Deyto, sales and marketing director of SuperFerry 9, said all passengers will be given financial help, free hospitalization and burial assistance.

He also admitted that the ferry was carrying 220 tons of Shell heavy oil. He added that they already hired the services of a salvage firm to avoid an oil spill.

The rescued passengers out of 948 passengers were brought to Iloilo where they will be given free hotel accommodation, hospitalization, food and clothing , transportation, briefing and counseling.

President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro to mobilize all the assets of the Armed Forces to rescue the passengers of Superferry 9.

“Although meron pa pong 88 pa hinahanap, dahil po dito sa utos ng ating Pangulo, kay Secretary Gibo Teodoro, marami po ang nasalba , at nakakatuwa naman po dahil mabilis po ang aksyon g coast guard, ng Philippine Navy, ng Philippine Air Force, lahat ng assets po ay tinutok dito,” Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said.

Philippine National Red Cross chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said the PNRC is working with the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Air Force in assisting the disaster victims and their families.

“In these times of tragedies, we need to work together and we need to work fast so that we can save more lives. The Philippine National Red Cross is closely working with the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Air Force to make this possible,” Gordon said.

“We have already mobilized our staff and volunteers in Zamboanga Del Norte, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay and General Santos City to immediately attend to the needs of the victims and assist their families who are worriedly looking for them,” he added.

PNRC chapters in Zamboanga Del Norte, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Sibugay and General Santos City have already deployed ambulances to give first aid to the victims, if needed.

Sen. Manny Villar said he is saddened by the ferry mishap in Zamboanga that resulted in four deaths and more than 90 missing. He also offered assistance to the victims.

Villar was in Zamboanga City for a speaking engagement at the Western Mindanao State University when he learned that Superferry 9 sank. Coast guard authorities updated Villar and Zamboanga City Mayor Celso Lobregat on the status of the rescue operations at the Zamboanga port area.