The Coast Guard on Saturday continued its efforts to locate and rescue the seven missing passengers of the ill-fated MV Lady of Mount Carmel that sank in the waters off Burias Island in Bicol on Friday resulting in the death of two other passengers.
So far, 61 people had been rescued, 39 of whom were passengers and 22 were crew members, including the ship captain.
The fatalities were identified as Carlota Singa, 50, and Erlinda Joviltado, 59, both residents of Pasig City.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) later identified four of the seven
missing passengers as Abegail Barredo, Noan Manocan, Fe Rasping and Leticia Andaya.
Coast Guard chief information officer Cdr. Armand Balilo said divers, medical and rescue teams on board BRP Pampanga, MCS-3006 and a helicopter had been instructed to check nearby towns for possible survivors of the tragedy which occurred three hours after the roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessel set sail from Pio Duran in Albay around 2:30 a.m.
The ship was en route to Aroroy, Masbate when it sank.
“We requested even the commercial vessels that travel regularly to Masbate to divert their voyage and to assist in search and rescue operations,” he added.
Balilo said the search and rescue teams also scoured the waters of Masbate near the site of the sinking for traces of a possible oil spill.
“There is no worry about oil spill because the vessel ordinarily use diesel. But we expect to get reports immediately if our teams spot an oil spill,” he added.
The 98.46-ton Carmel, owned and operated by Medallion Transport in Cebu, left Pio Duran in Bicol for Masbate with 48 passengers, 22 crew members, two passenger buses and two cargo trucks on board.
Reports from Coast Guard office in Masbate said that four of the seven missing passengers were not in the official travel manifest.
But Ensign Ere Mon Duruin, spokesman of the Naval Forces Southern Luzon, said the missing passengers are feared to be trapped inside the capsized ship.
“There is a possibility that the 7 missing persons could have been trapped inside the ship,” Duruin said, even aerial search by the Air Force helicopters and a Navy Islander plane continue.
In a television interview, ship captain Lauro Mateo said he was just a reliever for the regular captain and it had been his first trip on that route.
Mateo said the vessel suddenly tilted before sinking about 14 kilometers from its destination of Aroroy, Masbate.
“Tumagilid yung barko. Pagtagilid, dire-diretso kaagad. Malalim yung area dito eh. Napakalalim ng dagat.”
(The boat listed on its side, and then it suddenly sank. This was a deep area, really very deep).
Earlier reports said that one of the buses on board broke loose from its moorings and caused the boat to lose its balance, tilt and then sink.
But Mateo and Medallion Transport officials said this theory was unlikely, adding that everything on the ship was secured including the buses.
The Coast Guard said it would form a special board of marine inquiry to conduct a probe of the sinking, which according to Balilo, happened despite the good weather condition in the area.
Balilo, however, said the formation of the probe team may have to wait a few days as they are still concentrating on search and rescue operations.
Accidents at sea are common in the Philippine seas because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.
In 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. With Florante S. Solmerin and The AP