Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 17:38 UK

Angry questions follow ferry sinking

By Michael Barker
BBC News, Manila

Grief, anger and calls for heads to roll have emerged in the wake of the sinking of a ferry in the central Philippines on Saturday with over 800 people on board.

A girl clutches a picture of her missing sister outside the Sulpicio Lines office in Manila, Philippines, on Monday
Distraught relatives have gathered at the ferry company offices

A handful of survivors have been found, and rescue efforts are continuing for others.

But as the days pass, hopes of finding more people alive look dim, with searchers privately admitting they are now only likely to find bodies.

The Princess of the Stars had been travelling from Manila to Cebu in the central island group of the Visayas, when it reported engine trouble amid mountainous waves stirred up by Typhoon Fengshen.


The ferry later capsized and was swept into shallow water near Sibuyan, where it has settled with just a portion of the hull visible above the waterline.

Survivors said those on board had just minutes to scramble into lifeboats before the ship sank.

They described harrowing scenes of screaming children and people leaping into the sea as the vessel went under.

One crew member told local media that the ferry's cargo may have come adrift in the heavy seas, holing the vessel, but there has been no independent confirmation of this.

Meanwhile, President Gloria Arroyo, politicians and the grieving relatives of those onboard have called into question the wisdom of setting sail with a typhoon approaching.


The coastguard says that under current maritime regulations, the ferry - which weighs over 20,000 tons - was entitled to leave port when it did.

The upturned hull of the Princess of the Stars in waters off Sibuyan island
Rescuers fear there may be few survivors

But an angry President Arroyo has berated the coastguard chief over the incident and ordered a change in the rules that would ban any vessel from putting to sea in the face of a typhoon, regardless of its size.

A government taskforce is now being formed to investigate the sinking, while the fleet of the ferry's owner Sulpicio Lines, which has had other vessels involved in previous maritime disasters, has been grounded pending the results of the investigation.

Transport undersecretary Elena Bautista said the shipping line must be held responsible for the tragedy.

And a number of politicians have called for the permanent scrapping of the company's operating licence as well as the sacking of the head of the coastguard.

'Typhoon veered'

Sulpicio Lines says it will co-operate in any probe but has insisted the ferry was seaworthy, and that it had a permit to sail when it left Manila on Friday night.

It pointed out that an unforeseen change in the typhoon's track put the ferry in harm's way as it travelled south.

Grieving and angry relatives of those onboard have been keeping a vigil outside Sulpicio Line's offices in Manila, as they await news from the rescue scene.

Elsewhere in the country flash floods and landslides triggered by Typhoon Fengshen have left over 100 dead and tens of thousands homeless with raging waters submerging entire villages.

The typhoon has now veered out to sea, west of the main island of Luzon, and is on a path that will take it in the direction of Taiwan.

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Country profile: The Philippines
12 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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