Divers Find Bodies In Ferry That Capsized In Storm

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

SAN FERNANDO, Philippines (AP) -- A coast guard diver searching for survivors Tuesday inside a ferry that capsized in a typhoon found bodies and a bit of comfort - a plastic rosary floating in the water.

Lt. Cmdr. Inocencio Rosario slipped on the string of light blue beads for luck, and hoped that it was an omen that a miracle was still possible, that survivors would be found inside the hulking vessel.

Typhoon Fengshen toppled the seven-story ferry Saturday as it cut a deadly swath through the central Philippines. Only four dozen survivors have been found; more than 800 passengers and crew are missing.

With each passing day, the hope of finding them dimmed.

"I felt sad when I saw the bodies," Rosario said, still wearing the beads. "I can imagine what they went through."

Rosario, whose name translates as "rosary," didn't think there would be any survivors, but "I believe in miracles."

"I hope somebody there is alive," he said. "We have only probed about 15 percent of the ship."

About 30 divers were on hand, including some U.S. Navy frogmen who were expected to take turns searching the vessel Wednesday and help map the seabed. The ferry, about 500 yards off Sibuyan island, is lying on unstable coral.

Nearby villagers said a deep trench may be nearby, so there are concerns the vessel could slip and plunge deeper.

The storm's toll on shore includes 227 dead and 275 missing in the worst-hit region, with dozens reported killed elsewhere by floods and landslides. It caused an estimated $74.2 million in crop damage.

The roiling seas left in the storm's wake had kept rescue workers away from the ferry until calm, sunny conditions Tuesday allowed the divers to slip inside. Only the tip of the bow juts from the water.

The conditions were treacherous. Coast guard chief Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said the divers broke windows and used every other gap they could find to get inside the 23,824-ton Princess of the Stars.

Once inside, they found bodies in air pockets along with chairs, baggage, shoes and shards of broken glass. Iron bars, twisted by the sudden capsizing, jutted out here and there.

One body was dressed in a ship's officer uniform and was clutching a two-way radio, officials said.

Passengers could have survived initially - life jackets were on some bodies - and some may have suffocated as they waited for rescuers delayed by the storm, Philippine navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said.

"It seems the passengers hesitated from jumping in turbulent waters" because "it happened too sudden," Arevalo told dzBB radio, referring to survivors' accounts of the ship quickly listing and going down in a half-hour or less.

"(With the life vests) you will survive for a few hours, but in time, the air will run out," he added.

Arevalo said the priority is how to extricate the bodies, either by attaching weights to them and pulling them out or cutting through the hull - a prospect complicated by a cargo of bunker oil that could leak.

Only three bodies were pulled out Tuesday.

While some relatives tearfully waited for news, others angrily questioned why the ship was allowed to leave Manila late Friday for a 20-hour trip to Cebu with a typhoon approaching.

Sulpicio Lines said it sailed with coast guard approval. The company's services have been suspended pending an investigation and a check of its other ships' seaworthiness.

Fengshen was expected to hit Taiwan and southeast China - an area already coping with flooding - on Wednesday.


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