Sunday, September 6, 2009

2009 SuperFerry 9, Phillipines, 10 dead

10 dead,900 people rescued as ferry sinks in southern Philippines

MANILA, Philippines - A ferry carrying nearly 1,000 passengers sank in the southern Philippines early Sunday, leaving ten dead and more than 30 missing.

The Superferry 9 began to list before dawn about nine miles (15 kilometres) off Zamboanga del Norte province, rousing terrified passengers from their sleep and sending many jumping into the water, coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.

Rescuers transferred 900 of 968 passengers and crewmen to two nearby commercial ships, a navy gunboat and a fishing boat, he said. Among them was Jeff Predchuz, 47, of Canada. A search was under way for 33 people who remained missing, Tamayo said.

Passenger Roger Cinciron told DZMM radio he felt the ferry tilting at about midnight but was assured by a crewman that everything was well. About two hours later, he was roused from sleep by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he said.

"People began to panic because the ship was really tilting," he said as he waited for rescuers to save him and a group of more than 20 other passengers.

Reymark Belgira, another passenger, said many panicked as the huge ferry turned. He said he saw parents tossing children to people on life rafts below, but he could not immediately jump himself.

"I held on to the ferry for hours until day break. I couldn't jump into the water in the dark," he said.

Tilting at around 45 degrees from 3 a.m. Sunday, the ferry was gobbled up by the sea some eight hours later, according to the survivors’ account.

Survivors recounted that when they started the voyage, they felt “something wrong” with the vessel.

Luigi Domingo, a resident of General Santos City, said he and his fellow passengers on the economy deck noticed that the vessel was largely inclining to the right as it sailed on.
Rattling sounds
The marshal from the Maritime Police said there was still more cargo space available when the SuperFerry 9 left General Santos City.

Past 2 a.m. Sunday, Elsa Monsali said she was awakened by loud, rattling sounds below, referring to the cargo section. It was at this time that she said the ship experienced intense rocking.

Then suddenly, she felt the ship had tilted sharply.

Ganuhay said he was jolted awake when he was thrown down from his upper bunk in the tourist accommodation.

As he rushed out, he saw water already flowing in.

To help out passengers get to the left side of the vessel, the ship’s crew used ropes and also distributed life jackets to passengers.

The deck’s doorway was jammed with people also wanting to escape.

Domingo said he texted his mother in General Santos City to “pray for me.” He told her the ship “would probably go down in the water.”

He said that when his mother called him around 4 a.m., he was already positioned at the railing and hearing orders from sea marshals for people to get ready to abandon the ship “per advice of the captain.”

Survivors said they saw people jumping into the waters while they screamed.

Domingo, who was among the first to jump, said that not many followed “probably because they were fearful about the cold and darkness below.”

This might explain why several life rafts drifted away empty. Some people “floated with the currents” with only their life jackets

Navy ships were deployed and three military aircraft scoured the seas, Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. American troops providing counterterrorism training to Philippine soldiers in the region deployed a civilian helicopter and five boats, some carrying paramedics, to help, U.S. Col. William Coultrup said.

Teodoro said two men and a child drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. The bodies of two other passengers were later plucked from the sea by fishermen, the coast guard said, adding three people were injured.
Chelona Pabit, from Agusan, said that as they left port on Saturday morning, the boat began to tilt.

“I noticed when the boat was slowly turning around away from the wharf, it tilted a bit. When the boat leaned to the other end, I heard a strong sound coming from downstairs. Everyone ignored the sound, but we all noticed the boat was tilting,” Pabit said.

For more than 12 hours, the “tilted” ship sailed, Pabit said.

At around 11 p.m., Pabit saw crewmen running down to where the cargoes were located.

“Again I heard another strong sound and I guess a kind of (container) van fell off. I asked the crew what was wrong and they told me there was nothing to worry about as it was just strong waves and strong winds,” Pabit said.

The cause of the listing was not clear. The ferry skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, vice-president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry.

There were reports the 7,268-ton vessel listed to the right because of a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said.

Aerial photos from the navy showed survivors holding on to anything as the ferry tilted. Others climbed down a ladder on the side as a lone orange life raft waited below.

The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Iloilo city in the central Philippines later Sunday but ran into problems midway.

There were no signs of possible terrorism.

Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants bombed another Superferry in Manila Bay in 2004, setting off an inferno that killed 116 people in Southeast Asia's second-worst terrorist attack.

The weather was generally fair in the Zamboanga peninsula region, about 530 miles (860 kilometres) south of Manila, although a tropical storm was battering the country's mountainous north, the coast guard said.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

Last year, a ferry overturned after sailing toward a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines, killing more than 800 people on board.

In December 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.