IN one of the country’s worst sea disasters MV St. Thomas Aquinas 1 of 2GO Shipping lines sank Friday night after it collided with the cargo vessel MV Sulpicio Express 7, about a kilometer away from Talisay, Cebu.
The MV St. Thomas Aquinas came from Agusan del Norte and was headed for Manila via Cebu when the tragedy occurred.
As of yesterday afternoon, 35 persons were reported dead, 216 missing and 630 had been rescued. A baby boy less than one year old, who was separated from his parents, was among the survivors.
According to Lt. Jim Alagao, Public Affairs Office of Armed Forces of the Philippines –Central Command, the casualty figures were based on the report of the Coast Guard Station in Cebu and their coordination with hospitals in the area were survivors were rushed.
Meanwhile in an update issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) as of 2 p.m. yesterday, authorities had recovered 28 bodies from the sea.
Dead victims were brought to Pier 4 in Cebu for proper identification and subsequently transported to Cosmopolitan Funeral Parlor.
The wounded were taken to various hospitals: 31 in Talisay District, 24 in Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and 20 in Cebu City Medical Center.
Reports reaching Camp Crame said the collision occurred at around 9:03 pm at the vicinity of Lawis Ledge, Talisay City.
It was learned that the MV St Thomas Aquinas, a passenger ship from Butuan headed to Cebu City had 118 crewmen and 752 passengers. The Sulpicio l cargo vessel which was going to Davao had 38 crew members.
Search and rescue teams yesterday continued their grim search in bad weather for the over 200 still missing in Friday’s sea tragedy.
Survivors and witnesses said hundreds of passengers of MV Saint Thomas Aquinas 1 who frantically reached for their life vests jumped into the water as the ship began to sink around 10 minutes after the collision. There were reports that many of the missing were babies. The Philippine Coast Guard said 58 children were listed on the passenger ship’s manifest many of them mere infants.
The 2GO management which operates the passenger vessel said it was carrying 723 passengers and 118 crew or a total of 841 people. The ship has a capacity of 1,010 persons.
The 2GO management said 650 passengers and 107 crew members had been rescued as of 8 a.m. with more than 50 still unaccounted for.
Howeve,r AFP Central Luzon Command operations chief, Commander Elmer Base said more than 200 were still missing as of 10 a.m.
Navy and Coast Guard vessels, joined by the police and civilian rescuers, scoured the waters in the area for the missing passengers.
Coast Guard vice commandant Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr. said divers have been ordered to search for any of the passengers that could have been trapped inside the ill-fated ship which came from Agusan del Norte and was heading for Manila when it collided with the cargo vessel.
The cause of the collision is still being investigated. The captains of the two vessels have been ordered to give their statements to investigators even as the Coast Guard said they are moving to contain the fuel leaking from the ship.
Malacañang asked the public not to speculate at this time on the cause of Friday night’s tragic collision as it involved Sulpicio Lines which is known for several maritime tragedies.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Palace will leave it to the proper authorities to complete their investigation.
“At this point hindi pa kami magbibigay ng kumento. Mas mabuti hintayin ang resulta ng investigation. Ayaw natin maakusahan may kulay ang kumento,” Valte said..
Asked if heads will roll, she said, “mag-shift ‘yan since it is a maritime accident. That has to be determined kung sino ang at fault (the search operations will shift to investigation since what happened is a maritime accident. It has to be determined who was at fault).”
Valte also said that the government is ready to provide assistance to the victims in addition to the help being extended by the shipping companies.
“Handa naman tayong magbigay ng kahit anong assistance na kailangan nila. As of the current situation, the management of 2Go Shipping Lines is providing relief assistance to them,” Valte said.
She said the shipping company has extended temporary shelters, hot meals, and medical assistance to the survivors. Other survivors are also being given accommodation while the situation is being sorted out, she added.
A navy man who was among the survivors of the sea collision was able to rescue seven passengers before he was saved by responding crew of MV Sulpicio 7.
SIRD Richard Pestillos, detailed as sea marshal onboard MV St Thomas Aquinas, jumped off the ship to save his life but before he did he was able to help distribute life vests to the passengers.
Even in the water, trying to survive, Pestillos managed to save two children and five adults by helping them get on a life raft.
The navy man is now in stable condition at Pier 4 Hotel with contusions at the back.
One survivor, Maribel Manalo, 23, recounted to her brother the horror of suddenly being plunged into the cold water in darkness, and emerging from the chaos without her mother.
“She said there was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking,” the brother, Arvin Manalo, told AFP.
“They quickly strapped on life jackets and then jumped into the dark sea. She said they felt like they were pulled under. My sister said she pushed our mother up, but they got separated.
“My sister was rescued. My sister knows how to swim, but my mother does not.”
He said their mother, 56, remained missing.