The hull of the upturned MV Princess of the Stars. Philippine rescue teams battled furious...
ABOARD THE BRP PAMPANGA, Philippines (AFP) - Philippine rescue teams battled furious seas and high winds Monday in a desperate hunt for more survivors of a ferry that sank in a typhoon with 862 people aboard.
Only the tip of the bow of the Princess of the Stars remained above water after it tilted and quickly capsized Saturday, and navy divers have found no sign of life aboard the doomed vessel just off the central island of Sibuyan.
A US supply ship with search and rescue helicopters aboard and maritime surveillance aircraft were ordered into the area to help, the US embassy here said.
So far, 36 people from the ferry have turned up alive, raising hopes that more will be found on the many tiny islands nearby.
Late Monday at least 40 people were reported to have turned up alive on the island of Burias but it is unclear how many were on the doomed ferry.
"Not all of them came from the sunken ferry," mayor Eduardo Andueza told DZBB radio from Claveria town.
"Some were survivors of fishing vessels that also sank during the typhoon," Andueza said.
"There are survivors, there are some who made it ashore but later died, and some of the bodies were already decomposing, so I had them buried," the mayor said.
Several bodies have washed up along shorelines along with children's shoes, heightening fears of a high death toll, but coast guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said: "We have not lost hope that there might be more survivors."
"We have slowed down to scout for floating bodies," coast guard rescue vessel captain Lieutenant Commander Inocencio Rosario told reporters on board.
"After three days they tend to float," he added.
The search continued as the ferry company revised up the number of passengers and crew on board from 747 to 862.
Anxious relatives waited at the ferry firm's Manila offices waiting for news -- and answers.
It was the company's fourth disaster at sea in the past two decades but despite a government order banning Sulpicio Lines from operating its 22 vessels, the company continued to sell tickets Monday.
The company has been officially blamed for the weekend tragedy while it has maintained that the ferry was "seaworthy."
"Definitely, Sulpicio Lines is responsible here," said Transport Undersecretary Elena Bautista.
The government also set up a task force to look into the cause of the accident, while anti-corruption campaigners threatened a class action against the company, saying it should lose its operating licence.
The Princess of the Stars had been allowed to sail despite Typhoon Fengshen bearing down because, under current Philippine law, the vessel was deemed large enough to stay afloat in the periphery of the storm.
But Fengshen tragically made a sudden change of direction from north to west, and headed directly into the ferry's path. The powerful storm has also killed almost 230 people on land.
The captain tried to get the vessel to safe harbour, but it ran aground. There were conflicting reports that he had slowed the engines in the face of the storm and that the motors had given out.
The 24,000-tonne ship issued a distress signal on Saturday from near Sibuyan, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Manila. One survivor said there was almost no time to react.
"It seemed like everything happened in 15 minutes," Reynato Lanorio, one of the crew, told DZBB radio. "Next thing we knew, the ship had gone under."
More than 80 divers reached the vessel Monday with cutting equipment hoping that people may have found air pockets in the hull.
Countless people in this impoverished nation rely on relatively inexpensive ferries to get around the country's 7,100 islands, and Sulpicio Lines is one of the biggest of the ferry companies.
It has had at least three other major accidents since 1987, when its Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker. Around 4,000 people were killed, the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history.
President Gloria Arroyo has ordered regulators to change the rules that allowed the Princess of the Stars to set sail with the typhoon nearby, her spokesman Jesus Dureza said.
by Romeo Gacad Mon Jun 23, 11:20 AM ET
Courtesy of AFP/Philippines Coast Guard/File Photo