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Commander Ramon Liwag, Philippine Coastguard
"We have to investigate the cause, we cannot speculate"
 real 28k

The BBC's John McLean
"Some passengers and crew only just had time to don their lifejackets"
 real 28k

Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado
"We have had quite a number of deaths in the past"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 15:08 GMT
Hundreds rescued as ferry sinks

location of ferry disaster

Hundreds of people have been rescued in the Philippines after a passenger ferry carrying more than 650 sank early on Thursday.

Military officials said at least 591 passengers of the MV Asia South Korea had been rescued after the accident. Nine people are confirmed as dead and several dozen are still missing.

The ship, reported to be carrying 606 passengers and 52 crew was sailing on a regular route from Cebu City to Iloilo when it sank off Bantayan Island, about 500km (300 miles) south-east of Manila, the coast guard said.

Ferry survivors Rescuers pull survivors from a lifeboat

The voyage would normally take 12 hours.

Three Philippine Navy vessels, aided by a flotilla of smaller local craft are continuing to scour the area in search of survivors.

Among the rescued was Nepalese student Gurung Sundip, who had been heading for an island holiday with 12 classmates. He lost contact with his fellow students as the ferry went down and was still waiting for word of them.

Poor weather

There was no immediate word on the cause of the accident, which the coast guard said happened at 0500 local time (2100 GMT Wednesday), but weather conditions are said to have been poor, with strong winds and fog.

A report received by the coast guard from one crew member described how a large wave swamped the ferry, knocking out the ship's lights.

The crewman said that life vests were distributed and life rafts, loaded first with children, were launched immediately.

Philippines ferry accidents
1987 - Dona Paz collides with oil tanker killing 4,000
1988 - Dona Marilyn, sister ship of Dona Paz, sinks killing 300
1994 - Ferry Cebu City collides with tanker, 140 missing or dead
1995 - Fire breaks out on Kimelody Cristy, 31 die
1996 - Gretchen I sinks killing 50
1998 - Princess of the Orient sinks off coast of Manila, 51 people die
1999 - Three people killed after fire on board MV Rosario II

Other unconfirmed reports suggested an explosion was heard before the vessel went down.

The 27-year-old Japanese-built ship was owned by Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, a local company.

Reports say the ferry had been delayed at port for three hours before departure because officials believed it was overloaded.

A Trans-Asia spokesman told Agence France Presse news agency that port authorities in Cebu had cleared the vessel for departure, indicating it was fit for travel.

"That means we were not overloading the vessel and there was no overloading," he said, adding that the MV Asia South Korea was well below its capacity of 640 passengers.

According to the spokesman, the company has dispatched paramedics, doctors, nurses and its own helicopters to join the rescue effort. Priests and ministers were also being drafted in to counsel bereaved relatives in Cebu.

Officials and social workers in Bantayan Island have been placed on alert to receive victims.

Ferry disaster A woman waits anxiously for news of survivors

"We are all ready, we have just had an emergency meeting to prepare for emergency assistance," Magdalena Derecho, a local social worker, told DZBB radio station.

Ships and ferries are regularly used for transport in the Philippines, a nation with over 7,000 islands.

Frequent accidents

But the vessels are often overcrowded and accidents are frequent.

In December 1987 the ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off the island of Mindoro, killing more than 4,000 people in what is described as the world's worst peacetime maritime tragedy.

Philippines Defence Secretary Orlando Mercardo told the BBC that new regulations may follow in the wake of the latest disaster.

"I believe that the government has to enforce stricter measures, not only as regards overloading, but the issue of 'floating coffins' - vessels that are operating that may not be seaworthy any more - they are putting the lives of passengers in danger," he said.

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See also:
02 Aug 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Philippines ferry fire confusion
23 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
The Philippines: A record of shipping disasters
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