Divers discover more bodies in ship wreckage

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2013 08:52 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2013 04:52 AM

MANILA -- Divers on Sunday saw more bodies inside the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas that sank Friday following a collision with a cargo ship.

Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the military’s Central Command, said authorities are set to undergo a full-scale underwater operation to account for at least 82 still missing in the collision between the two ships in Cebu waters.

The death toll has so far reached 38.

"The divers will [establish] a lifeline in [order] to penetrate the inside of the wreckage. They were outside earlier and had a reconnaissance of the ship. Based on the report of the technical divers, some [victims] are still inside so they are planning now to go there,” he said.

The technical divers -- four from the Navy, two from the Central Visayas regional police office and two Koreans – easily saw two bodies.

"While conducting the recon dive, they saw two bodies inside the wreckage...They were inside but they were at the easy access (part)...The other bodies were at the inner part of the ship and the divers didn't go there," said Lt. Cmdr. Noel Escalona, operations officer of the Naval Forces Central.

"Hopefully, they (divers) can place markers, pinpoint entry and exit points. Then the full retrieval will happen probably tomorrow. Per assessment of our divers, it’s still dangerous (to go inside),” he added.

He said the underwater operations would need special skills from divers.

"You need special skills when diving more than 120 feet, you need special medical oxygen, decompression tank. You need more rigorous training in a deep dive," said Escalona.

The divers also face problems brought about by the oil spill from the sunken ship.

Coast Guard spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said MV St. Thomas Aquinas was carrying 120,000 liters of bunker fuel, 20,000 liters of lube oil and 20,000 of diesel fuel.

"There's a sighting of (oil spill) but we cannot quantify (the extent of the effect)," said Balilo.

Fuel leak

Authorities said they were unable to stop fuel leaking from a ferry that sank, as oil spread to coastal villages, fishing grounds and mangroves more than five kilometers away.

"You can see it coming out of the sunken vessel. It is bunker fuel and it is black," Cebu coast guard commander Weniel Azcuna told AFP. "It has affected a lot of shorelines here in Cebu and (the neighboring island of) Mactan."

Among the areas affected were Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova town in Mactan island, and Talisay City in Cebu, which all host popular beach resorts.

Cordova also has protected mangrove areas, while Talisay has a thriving fishing industry.

At Cordova, roots of mangroves were coated in black oil at low tide, according to an AFP reporter who visited the area, which is more than five kilometers from where the ferry sank.

Herons and egrets waded amid shallow water that had a rainbow sheen of oil.

Azcuna said that because the hole could not be plugged, the coastguard and a company contracted by the ferry operator were spraying a chemical dispersant to try and break it up.

He could not say how much of the fuel had leaked out already. – with reports from Agence France-Presse