MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Rescuers saved about 100 people overnight and recovered two bodies from a ferry that sank in rough seas after encountering steering trouble in the central Philippines, officials said Sunday.
Coast guard Capt. Joseph Coyme said search and rescue efforts by air and sea would continue because it was uncertain how many passengers and crewmembers were on the M/V Maharlika II. The domestic ferry sank late Saturday after listing and being lashed by strong wind and waves whipped up by a storm north of the ferry's path.
Around 100 survivors have been rescued by two passing foreign ships and another ferry deployed for rescue operations by the company that owned the Maharlika. That figure is way beyond the 58 passengers and 26 crewmembers that the Maharlika's skipper reported in the distress call to the coast guard, Coyme said.
"There are discrepancies in the numbers and we cannot terminate the search and rescue until we're sure that everybody has been accounted for," Coyme told The Associated Press by cellphone from the central city of Surigao, where the survivors were taken.
"Every single life is important," he said.
As he spoke, an air force helicopter flew low overhead to start a search. Coast guard personnel could be heard using two-way radio to ask civilian ships leaving the Surigao port to "help look for survivors, life vests" near the scene of the accident and along the coast. Ambulance vans stood at the seaport in Surigao and nearby towns to assist any more survivors.
With clear weather in the central provinces south of the storm, the coast guard cleared the Maharlika to leave Surigao city around noon for a regular domestic run. The skipper sent the distress call a few hours later and several passengers used their cellphones to call for help when the ferry's steering mechanism malfunctioned and fierce wind and big waves began to batter the stalled vessel, Coyme and other coast guard officials said.
Frequent storms, badly maintained vessels and weak enforcement of safety regulations have been blamed for past accidents at sea in the Philippines, including in 1987 when the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.