Monday, December 28, 2009

Death toll from ro-ro ferry sinking may reach 42

36 missing, 6 dead in MV Baleno-9 tragedy

BATANGAS CITY, Philippines – Search and rescue operations in two separate sea tragedies in Batangas and Cavite resumed on Monday.

In Batangas, rescuers were racing against time to find and save 36 people who went missing after the MV Baleno-9 sank Saturday night.

Based on its manifest, the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ferry had 74 passengers and 14 crew on board or a total of 88.

However, on Monday, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Commandant Wilfredo Tamayo reported that there were actually more than 100 on board the ferry.

A total of 69 have been rescued, up from Sunday's figure of 62.

Thirty-six are missing, 14 more than what was reported on Sunday.

The number of dead bodies retrieved was still at 6, as of posting.

On Monday, some people reported to authorities that they belatedly learned of relatives who were on board the inter-island ferry, which accounts for the higher number of missing passengers.

More missing passengers reported

Paul Angelo de Castro, team leader of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said some more relatives of the victims went to the Batangas Port to report missing family members.

Sonny Trinidad, brother of missing passenger Police Officer 2 Neil Trinidad, came to the PNRC operation center Monday morning to inquire about his brother.

In an interview with the ABS-CBN News, Sonny said they were only informed of their missing brother through Neil’s girlfriend.

“Nalaman lang namin na kasama ang kapatid namin sa lumubog na barko noong Linggo ng gabi nang mag-text ang girfriend ng kapatid ko kaya Lunes na kami ng umaga nakapunta dito sa Port of Batangas,” Trinidad said.

PNRC volunteers listed Neil’s name on the missing person bulletin board after his relatives claimed that he boarded the vessel from Calapan City last Saturday.

Three of Bona Tan’s relatives were also not included initially on the missing person bulletin, as of Monday.

“Nagtanong na ako sa opisina ng Besta Shipping Lines noon pang Linggo pero wala silang maibigay na impormasyon kung nakasama sa mga nawawala ang mga kamag-anak ko,” Tan said, adding that the ship's staff could not even present her the manifest.

If not for the monitoring efforts of the PNRC, “hindi pa namin malalamang nawawala ang kamag-anak namin,” Tan said.

Meantime, the sixth casualty has been identified by relatives as Hermie An Largado, 22, of San Jose, Bulacan.

The other fatalities are Jenny Cabral Mutia, 36, of Socorro, Oriental Mindoro; Lealyn Peñaranda, 20, of Pola, Oriental Mindoro; eight-month-old Angelica Balanza; Jennilyn Gutierrez; and, June Panagsagan.

Moonlight saves passengers

Meanwhile, several passengers of M/V Baleno 9 said they managed to survive the sinking of the ill-fated ferry last Saturday with the help of moonlight.

“We survived, thanks to the moonlight that served as our guiding light in escaping from the sinking ferry,” Alberto Perez, 25, told ABS-CBN News.

Perez, a resident of Barangay 24 RR Station in Batangas City, was one of 68 passengers who survived the sinking of the ferry off San Agapito point in Isla Verde, Batangas City Saturday night.

“I thought we would die when people fell all over me, but it’s good that the moonlight was bright and I found my way out of the ferry,” Perez said as he lay in bed at the Batangas Regional Hospital .

Despite panicking, he was able to lift up an elderly woman to the surface of the sea before he was able to cling onto a wooden board.

“I was able to push two kids to safety but I don’t know if they survived,” Perez said, holding back tears.

'So many children'

Perez suffered contusions in his chest, legs and arms when passengers fell on top and stepped on him in the rush to get out of the air-conditioned room of the vessel.

“There were so many children, I couldn’t imagine how to save them all,” he recalled.

Perez said he even shouted at the passengers not to panic, and guided them out of the room. “After helping an elderly, I went down in the water again to help others but I was stepped on and almost lost my breath.”

Perez said the incident happened so fast they hardly had time to react upon being roused from sleep. “We woke up only when people were already shouting and in a little while water came rushing in.”

“I weep when I remember the children left inside the ferry, I could only pray for them as I floated in the dark,” Perez said.

Perez added that they were rescued by a passing ship, M/V Reina delos Angeles of the Montenegro Shipping Lines, while the others were saved by M/V Baleno-3 after an hour drifting at sea.

“We are thankful that the moon was bright so the rescuers could locate us while floating at sea,” he said.

Cold sea water

Perez, together with his friend, Michael Palipay, almost died of hypothermia. “The water was so cold. If the rescuers didn’t arrive soon, we might have died from the cold.”

Perez was admitted to the hospital and placed under medical observation after swallowing seawater with gasoline and engine oil from the vessel. Palipay, however, managed to survive.

Perez said they left Calapan port bound for Batangas at around 9:30 p.m., and the ferry sank at around 9:45 p.m.

“When we reached Verde Island the waves were so huge the water entered the front portion of the ferry until we gradually sank,” he said.

Perez said he even saw one family still sleeping inside their van when the vessel sank.

Perez said he already noticed the roll-on, roll-off (RORO) vessel tilting to its portside before sailing from Calapan port.

“It’s possible we were overloaded because there were many vehicles and passengers coming from Christmas holiday in Mindoro,” he said.

Coast Guard officials said they will conduct an immediate inquiry into the vessel’s captain and crew.

No comments: