Rescuers to enter capsized Philippine ferry; hundreds still missing

Rescuers prepared Tuesday to enter a capsized ferry in the Philippines in a desperate search for 785 people missing in one of the country's worst sea accidents, the dpa reported.

The MV Princess of the Stars was carrying 862 passengers and crew members when it sank Saturday off Sibuyan Island, 300 kilometres south of Manila, at the height of a typhoon.

Rescuers have so far found 57 survivors with 20 people confirmed dead, the Coast Guard said.

Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, Coast Guard commandant, said divers have looked at the best way to enter the submerged ship, including the possibility of cutting through its exposed bow.

"The divers have looked at all possible access points, such as existing openings," he said. "Cutting was the initial plan, but we have to be very careful, so we looked at the most effective way."

"The most convenient way is to enter through accommodation windows which can be broken," he said.

The Navy said Monday that it had found no signs of life when it reached the ferry, but authorities have refused to give up hope of finding some of the 785 missing people alive.

"I am a very optimistic person, and we don't want to rule out any conclusion," Tamayo said. "We really can't tell, and it's better for us to find out for sure."

The United States has dispatched a vessel with rescue helicopters and a surveillance aircraft to help in the search.

Tamayo said US experts were also providing technical assistance in the efforts to enter the Princess of the Stars, which was licensed to carry 1,992 people.

The government has grounded all vessels of the Sulpicio Lines, which owns the ferry, pending an investigation into the accident.

The company's ships and ferries have been involved in some of the country's worst maritime disasters.

In 1987, its passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker just before Christmas, killing 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster.

Almost one year later in October 1988, another Sulpicio Lines ferry sank during a typhoon, killing 250 people. In 1998, another of the company's ships sank, leaving 70 dead and 80 missing.

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