Divers yet to find ferry survivors

Other News Materials 24 June 2008 11:17 (UTC +04:00)

Philippine divers found bodies but so far no survivors inside the hull of a ferry that capsized in a typhoon, a Philippine Coast Guard official said Tuesday.

A total of 864 people -- 725 of them passengers -- were aboard the Princess of the Stars when it overturned about a mile off Sibuyan Island early Saturday as Typhoon Fengshen pummeled the Philippines, according to the ship's owner, Sulpicio Lines, reported CNN.

Rescuers earlier found at least 34 survivors and at least 11 dead from a ferry that capsized in a typhoon, the Philippine Information Agency said Monday.

Divers received no response on Monday when they hammered on the 23,824-ton Princess of Stars that was jutting from the water off Sibuyan island in the central Philippines.

"We're not ruling out that somebody there is still alive," coast guard chief Wilfredo Tamayo told The Associated Press. "You can never tell."

But high seas that have prevented rescue ships from approaching the ferry showed no sign of abating Monday as officials planned how to enter the ship -- either with divers or by drilling a hole in the hull, Tamayo said.  Watch aerial pictures of the sunken ferry "

Hope faded by the hour that large numbers of survivors will be found on land where communications were hit by the weekend storm that killed at least 163 people.

Officials added that they have also found victims and survivors from other fishing boats that capsized in the area.

A U.S. Navy ship equipped with helicopters will soon join the search and rescue effort, said Richard Gordon, the head of the Philippines Red Cross and a member of the country's Senate.

Fishermen found 30 survivors from the ferry Princess of Stars, which rolled over early Saturday morning, Gordon said. One person died after being picked up, and another was lost during rescue efforts, he said, but the remaining 28 have been delivered to police.

"There's quite a few people out there that are still missing," he said. "We are trying our best to find them, and I hope we could get some help."  Watch images of the ferry sinking "

The Princess of Stars had 864 people on board, according to the vessel's owner, Sulipicio Lines. The manifest posted on the company's Web site lists 725 passengers, 112 crew members and 27 others including security escorts, canteen personnel, and sea marshalls.

It overturned about a mile off the shore of Sibuyan Island early Saturday as Typhoon Fengshen pummeled the Philippines.

Sulipicio said the family of each person killed in the accident will receive 200,000 pesos (approximately $4,600), the Philippine Information Agency reported.

The crew of the vessel, which can hold up to 2,000 people, reported that its engines had failed during a regular run from Manila and Cebu City, according to Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo, the head of the country's coast guard.

Rescuers knocked on the ferry's hull Sunday evening in hopes of hearing signs of survivors within the capsized ship, the captain of which had given orders to abandon it before contact was lost.

"Many of them were wearing life jackets," Gordon said. "Hopefully we can still find them alive."

The typhoon has killed at least 140 people on land, with at least 255 more reported missing, he said.

The storm had not been expected to hit the Philippines when it first formed last week. But the storm struck the islands Friday with winds of about 140 km/h (90 p.m.) before moving north toward China and Taiwan. A storm warning posted along the ferry's course would not have required the vessel to cancel its trip, but relatives of the passengers have questioned why the ship was allowed to leave port.

"They should not have let the ship sail because there was a typhoon coming," Isadora Salinas said. "How can they do that? They won't even give out information about what happened."

Gordon said Sulpicio Lines -- which operates the ferry -- has a history of previous accidents, "and people are pouncing on them right now."

"The mood here is very ugly," he said.