Hundreds Saved From Philippine Ferry

By CARLOS H. CONDE
The New York Times
Published: September 6, 2009

MANILA — A Philippine ferry carrying about 1,000 passengers sank in the southern Philippines on Sunday. Officials said at least nine people were killed and 33 were missing.

The Coast Guard said the ship, the Superferry 9, relayed a distress signal around 2 a.m. and the passengers were roused from their sleep as the ship began to tilt.

Coast Guard officials said 926 passengers and crew members were rescued and that the transfer of the passengers to rescue boats had been mostly orderly. But at least three of the fatalities — two adults and a 2-year-old boy — occurred in the scramble for safety, officials said.

The cause of the accident was still being investigated. Passengers interviewed by radio stations in Manila said they did not hear an explosion prior to the sinking, and weather did not appear to be a factor.

Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, the chief of the Philippine Coast Guard, said at a press briefing on Sunday that the ship had problems with its generator as it sailed from General Santos City in the south en route to Iloilo City in the central Philippines.

Mr. Tamayo said most of the passengers were transferred to a navy gunboat and a fishing boat. Two fishing boats also rescued at least two dozen passengers.

He said the search for the missing was underway. “We really hope they’re just unaccounted for due to the confusion,” Mr. Tamayo said, according to The Associated Press.

Officials said the Superferry 9 began to tilt on Siocon Bay, near the Zamboanga Peninsula, about 15 nautical miles from Zamboanga City, where American forces are stationed. Col. William Coultrup, the commander of the United States troops there, deployed a helicopter and several boats to help in the rescue, the A.P. reported.

Superferry 9 has had a string of mishaps in the past, forcing the Philippine Maritime Industry Authority to suspend it in 2007 over safety issues. In May, the ship was stranded at sea for more than 12 hours because of engine trouble, government officials said at the time.

But Jess Supan, vice president for safety and security of SuperFerry, the company that runs the ferry service, said the ship had been in good shape. “It wouldn’t be allowed to leave the port if there’s any deficiency,” he said, according to ABS-CBN television.

The Philippines, a typhoon-prone archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, is notorious for its sea disasters, often caused by some combination of tropical storms, poorly maintained boats and weak regulation. In 1987, 4,341 people died as a passenger ship, the MV Dona Paz, collided with a fuel tanker, the worst peacetime maritime disaster in the world.

About Carlos H. Conde

Researcher at Human Rights Watch (@condeHRW @hrw_ph). Former journalist (NYT, IHT, among others).
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