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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 10:25 GMT
Confusion over Manila ferry dead
A member of the search team
The charred remains of the vessel are being combed for bodies
Divers searching for bodies in a ferry which sank off the coast of the Philippines have found none of the people believed to be missing.

One person died and more than 150 people had been feared killed after a fire broke out on board the vessel shortly after it left Manila on Friday.

Most of the more than 700 passengers were rescued.

The Philippines government has played down claims by a local Muslim group that it had planted a bomb on the boat.

Gina Virtusio, a spokeswoman for the ship's owner, said it was possible that some of the missing were rescued and returned home safely without contacting the authorities. She said the company had already reduced the number of missing from 184 to 137 after several survivors got in touch over the weekend.

"Every day we'd get information that some of the rescued passengers went home without passing through us or the coast guard," she said. "We are hoping there are more out there."

Commander Alfredo Santos, a coast guard diver, said the search parties were still holding out hope.

"When I break the glass, there's the excitement that I can find somebody, but there has been nothing and I'm frustrated," he said.

The burnt out Superferry 14
Superferry 14 was carrying more than 700 passengers and crew

"We're looking for survivors, but now, even one body will make it worthwhile."

The vessel reportedly put out a distress call at about 0100 local time on Thursday (1700 GMT) near Corregidor Island - about two hours after it left Manila.

Survivors said the fire began as many of the passengers were heading to bed.

A local radio station quoted relatives of some of the passengers as saying they were told by mobile phone there was an explosion before the fire.

President Gloria Arroyo said the claim by the Muslim militant group Abu Sayyaf that it had planted a bomb on the ferry appeared to be an afterthought designed to spread fear.

"There is nothing in the investigation that proves that this was an act of terrorists," Mrs Arroyo said at the coast guard headquarters.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, has an extensive network of ferry services, but the safety record of the domestic shipping industry is poor.

The most serious accident occurred in 1987 when the ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker, killing more than 4,000 people in the world's worst peacetime sea tragedy.


SEE ALSO:
Many missing in Manila ferry fire
27 Feb 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Swimmers rare in land of water
11 Apr 02  |  Asia-Pacific
The Philippines men at sea
20 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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