AT least 38 people died and 19 passengers were missing after an outrigger capsized 200 meters away from the Port of Ormoc past noon Thursday.
Initial reports said the victims were among the 173 passengers of Kim Nirvana-B, a motorized banca bound for Pilar, Camotes, Cebu when it capsized at about 12:50 p.m., 10 minutes after leaving the Port of Ormoc.
Malacañang said President Benigno Aquino III had been apprised of the situation and the Philippine Coast Guard has been ordered to assist the passengers and investigate the cause of the incident.
Early reports said the boat, with a crew of 16, was maneuvering 200 meters away from port when it hit a big wave and flipped over.
Coast Guard spokesman Commander Arman Balilo said at least 118 passengers have been rescued.
Balilo said the ferry could have been hit by big waves caused by a tropical depression 520 kilometers east of Virac, Catanduanes.
Divers were scouring the murky waters searching for survivors from the inside of the ship, Ciriaco Tolibao from the city’s disaster risk reduction and management office, said.
Coast Guard personnel were still locating the skipper of the boat to learn more about what happened.
Capt. Pedro Tinampay, Coaost Guard district commander in Eastern Visayas, told a TV interview the boat was not overloaded since its total capacity was 178 passengers..
The boat’s skipper, who was among the survivors, said he did not expect big waves would hit the vessel when he tried to turn it toward the open sea.
The boat was loaded with hundreds of sacks of cement and rice, which likely also caused the boat to sink.
The Coast Guard confirmed that it was engaged in search and rescue activities but could give no further details of the operation.
Poorly-maintained, loosely-regulated ferries are the backbone of maritime travel. This has led to frequent accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years, including the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster in 1987 when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, leaving more than 4,300 dead.
The weather bureau said Thursday the low pressure area 520 kilometers east of Virac, Catanduanes had intensified into a tropical depression called “Egay.”
It is the fourth tropical cyclone to affect the country this year, the weather bureau said.
A weather forecaster with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Chris Perez, there was a slim chance that Egay would make landfall, but said it will enhance the west monsoon and induce rains in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Fishermen are advised not to venture out over the eastern seaboard of the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas.
Perez said the weather bureau continues to monitor the tropical storm with international name Chan-Hom and another low pressure area outside the Philippine area of responsibility. – With AFP, PNA
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