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40 dead as ferry capsizes off Masbate

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Location: Brunei Darussalam

PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 5:45 pm    Post subject: 40 dead as ferry capsizes off Masbate Reply with quote

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE 3) Forty people, including 11 children, were killed when a ferry capsized in a “freak accident” off Masbate province early Tuesday afternoon, the local police chief said.

The ferry, with 119 people listed on board, keeled over after being struck by a freak wind off the island of Masbate, according to Senior Superintendent Reuben Sindac, Masbate provincial police director.

"The Don Dexter Kathleen capsized due to a freak accident, it was hit by a high wind despite fair weather and calm waters," Sindac told local radio.

He said rescue services recovered 40 bodies -- 11 children and 29 adults -- while 76 survivors had been pulled from the water. Twenty-five of the adult casualties were women.

Sindac did not rule out the possibility that there may have been more people onboard the ferry.

It is a common practice for inter-island ferries to be overloaded with last-minute passengers boarding without being listed in the manifest.

Sindac said the boat’s skippers, Dexter Cathlyn, Dante Bombales, were taken in custody to determine their liability in the accident. The Philippine Coast Guard also placed boat owner Eduardo Yap under its custody.

Bombales was rescued, together with 75 others, by joint teams from the Coast Guard and police, plus other volunteers who rushed to the site.

M/B Don Dexter capsized five kilometres from shore in Dimasalang town after a squall hit it 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Police have yet to identify the victims.

Sindac said the ferry, which was bound for Bulan town in Sorsogon, was barely 20 minutes into its voyage when the incident occurred.

Coast Guard and police rescue teams were able to recover the manifest of the ferry, which showed it had 119 passengers.

There was no mention of how large a crew the ferry had.

The coastguard described the vessel as a large wooden-hulled outrigger, the main mode of transport between the 7,000 islands that make up the Southeast Asian archipelago.

Meanwhile, rescue teams have suspended rescue operations past 7 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to resume 7 a.m. Wednesday, Sindac said.

Sindac said they could not say the exact number of missing passengers because some could have boarded even if they were not included in the passenger manifest.

Sindac also said that the incident was an “accident” and such squalls were normal.

“The wind is very unusual but that’s normal here,” he said.

But police are not discounting that the ship could have been overloaded when it left shore, Sindac added.

Second Lieutenant Jeffrey Collado, the local coast guard chief, said four people were still missing despite fears that there may be more still unaccounted for.

Collado said the ferry was hit by a "freak whirlwind" that rose suddenly when the ferry left port.

Coast guard chief of staff Captain Efren Evangelista said the weather and waters were calm and that there was no reason for them to stop the vessel from setting sail.

"Of course, we will be conducting an investigation of this, but for now we will be concentrating on the search and rescue operations," he added.

The accident comes four months after the 23,000 ton inter-island ferry, Princess of the Stars, capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan carrying 850 passengers and crew.

Only 57 passengers and crew survived the accident which was the worst maritime disaster in the Philippines for 20 years.

Mishaps involving ferries are common in this archipelago where many poor people rely on small, poorly-maintained vessels to travel between islands.

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