The confirmed death toll reached 55 in a ferry sinking in the central Philippines as divers retrieved more bodies from the sunken wreck, the coast guard said on Monday.
Sixty-five people are still missing after the ferry sunk in a collision with a cargo ship off the coast of Cebu province, 580 kilometres south of Manila, on Friday.
Authorities fear most of the missing were trapped in the 11,405-ton ferry, which was lying at a depth of about 45 metres.
“We have not given up hope of finding survivors,” said Cebu governor Hilario Davide III, overseeing search operations. “But at the same time, we are resigned to the fact that there are people trapped in the vessel.” The coast guard said divers recovered 11 bodies on Monday morning, while three others were retrieved from nearby waters.
Rough seas slowed underwater retrieval operations, which were suspended in the afternoon.
“The wind is very strong and the waves are quite high,” said Lieutenant Jim Alagao, a regional military spokesman. “It’s very dangerous for the divers.” The ferry was carrying 870 people when it collided with the cargo ship MV Sulpicio Express 7 as they passed through a narrow channel off the port of Talisay City.
The cargo ship’s 38 crew members were unharmed, while 750 people on the ferry had been rescued, the coast guard said.
The 2Go Group, which owns and operates the ferry, is flying in Japanese divers to help in search operations and an expert in oil spills help contain oil leaking from the sunken ferry, said Lito Salvio, the company’s assistant vice president.
“The ferry had 20,000 litres of diesel fuel and 120,000 litres of bunker or crude fuel in the ship’s fuel tank and 20,000 litres of lube oil that were being used by the engines when it was running,” he said.
The oil spill has spread from the shores of Talisay City to nearby Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova town, affecting fishing grounds and mangroves.
Sea travel is a key mode of transport in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. But accidents are common due to poor safety standards and overloading.
The country was the site of the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster when a ferry collided with an oil tanker days before Christmas in 1987, killing more than 4,300 people.