Passengers hang on the port side of SuperFerry 9 before it sank off Zamboanga del Norte September 6, 2009. (Philippine Navy photo)
MANILA – At least five people drowned and 931 rescued after passenger ship MV SuperFerry 9 listed before sinking off the Zamboanga Peninsula early Sunday morning, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) reported Sunday afternoon.
In its 5 p.m. report the NDCC said 931 persons have been rescued alive while 5 dead bodies were recovered by different vessels. It said 28 persons were still unaccounted for.
In a radio dzMM interview earlier Sunday afternoon, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo identified one of the fatalities as 45-year-old Fernando James Estrada while a report said 2-year-old James Patrick Galero from South Cotabato was also killed in the tragedy.
National Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., NDCC head, earlier said those missing might have drifted and reached Sirawai and Siocon municipalities in Zamboanga del Norte.
“We requested the governor of Zamboanga del Norte to assist us in identifying those who are maybe in Sirawai and Siocon,” he said. “They have established also… [their] respective disaster coordinating councils to assist us with those who are maybe brought to their shores.”
According to Jess Supan, vice-president for Safety and Security of SuperFerry, the Iloilo-bound SuperFerry 9 was carrying 847 passengers, 117 crew members and 4 sea marshals. It left General Santos City at 8:45 a.m. Saturday. (The NDCC report however placed the number of crewmen as only 113.)
The Philippine Navy and PCG in Zamboanga City have also dispatched their vessels while the Philippine Air Force sent two choppers for the rescue operation. The PCG also dispatched another ship that would conduct oil spill response operations in case oil leaks from the vessel, Tamayo said.
Tamayo said authorities have also alerted fishing vessels and private boat owners in an effort to widen the search and rescue operations.
Rescued passengers, crew arrive in Zamboanga port
Rescued Superferry 9 passengers and crew arrive at Zamboanga City onboard M/V Myriad
Many of the rescued passengers and the bodies of the fatalities have been brought to Zamboanga City port area on Sunday. MV Myriad, one of the rescue vessels carrying more than 400 passengers, arrived in Zamboanga past 1 p.m.
Teodoro, meanwhile, said the search and rescue operations as well as providing medical care to the survivors are the main priorities right now.
“The coordination has been excellent. Fortunately, the weather has permitted us to use all available assets. Fortunately, the concerned agencies, particularly the Philippine Navy, are vey alert. And fortunately, too, that it was in an area where it is relatively accessible for rescue purposes,” he said.
The NDCC report said 27 passengers were treated with minor injuries and 20 were sent to the Brent and Zamboanga Doctors Hospitals.
Supan said the evacuation of passengers has been orderly. He added that there is a good chance many on board the ferry would be rescued as all passengers have been given life vests. He added that the sea was calm.
Supan said the crew of SuperFerry and the marshals on board proceeded with the safety drills and helped with the evacuation of passengers. The crew were the last to depart the ship at 8:42 a.m., he added.
Among the passengers were 29 crewmembers of ABS-CBN’s movie outfit Star Cinema. The Star Cinema employees shot some scenes in General Santos City for an upcoming film that will star former president Joseph Estrada. Estrada already appealed to the management of SuperFerry to help the victims. 11 of the Star Cinema crew members have been accounted for as of posting.
Philippine navy vessels move closer to the stricken SuperFerry 9 before it sank off Zamboanga del Norte September 6, 2009. (Philippine Navy photo)
The Superferry 9 issued a distress signal at 2:30 a.m. as it tilted in heavy seas, authorities said. The PCG, Tamayo said, received the distress call around 3 a.m.
The ship’s captain, Jose Yap, also told the passengers to abandon ship as a precautionary measure after the vessel tilted to the right.
The ship tilted around 35 degrees and not 45 degrees as earlier reported by a passenger. Authorities disclosed that some people "had jumped into the water in panic" as the ship was listing, the Agence-France Presse reported.
Alvin Desta, one of the passengers and an employee of Star Cinema, called dzMM and said many of the passengers were roused from their sleep after they felt the ship tilt.
The Star Cinema crew on board the ship also included its art department staff. The Star Cinema crew brought with them equipment, vehicles and costumes.
At 3 a.m., Tess Fuentes, operations director of Star Cinema, said she received a call saying that all passengers had already been given life jackets.
Around 10 a.m., authorities announced that SuperFerry 9 has already sunk in the vicinity of Batarompon Point., west of Zamboanga Peninsula.
Utulam said the ship was 14 nautical miles away from Bangga Point in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte and 50 nautical miles away (roughly five hours) from Zamboanga City when the incident occurred.
According to Utulam, some SuperFerry 9 passengers said they did not hear any explosion inside the ship. It just tilted all of a sudden.
Supan noted that he does not know why the ship tilted, adding that an investigation will be conducted thereafter.
“We really don’t know at the moment. We’re really focusing on search and rescue and it will take some time for us to really do the investigation,” Supan said.
He also assured that SuperFerry9 had enough life jackets and life boats for the passengers.
SuperFerry 9 had been reportedly involved in two mishaps in 2006 and 2007 but Supan said these were isolated cases.
He also said that SuperFerry 9 was “our first vessel to receive ISO certification… in the first place they wouldn’t be allowed to leave the port if there’s any deficiency.”
Tamayo, meanwhile, said in an interview with dzMM that the weather was good when the ship left General Santos City. He declined to speculate what caused the ship to tilt.
Tropical storm Labuyo (international code name: Dujuan) has heightened the seasonal southwest monsoon winds, bringing rough weather across the country, according to the weather bureau PAGASA.
Deadly accidents are common especially during the typhoon season in the middle of the year.
Passengers of the stricken SuperFerry 9 transfer to a Philippine Navy vessel shortly before the ferry sank in the coast off Zamboanga del Norte September 6, 2009. (Philippine Navy photo)
Relatives of some SuperFerry passengers trooped to the port of Iloilo for news of their loved ones.
One of them was Corazon Toralde whose brother, Romeo Naquera, called her at around 3:20 a.m. and told her about their situation on board SuperFerry 9.
Toralde said her brother told her that they were about to abandon ship.
Meanwhile, Teresita Monijague, whose relatives are also on board SuperFerry 9, complained that SuperFerry management in Iloilo could not be reached for updates.
The relatives of the victims are expecting the management to set up a help desk at the Iloilo port terminal.
Supan said SuperFerry has arranged for all required assistance such as medical, hotel accommodations, clothing, food and transport needs for the rescued passengers and crew.
All injured passengers will be brought to the hospital immediately. Counseling will reportedly also be available for passengers who will need them.
Relatives of the passengers may get assistance from centers that have been set up in Manila, Iloilo and Zamboanga. They may also contact SuperFerry hotline 528-7000.
Ferries, from large steel-hulled ones such as the Superferry 9 to small wooden dugouts with bamboo outriggers, form the backbone of mass transport in the archipelagic nation of 92 million people.
The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred south of Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 3,000 people.
At the height of typhoon Frank last June 21, 2008, M/V Princess of the Stars sank with only 58 of the ferry's 850 passengers and crew surviving the tragedy. –With reports from ANC, radio dzMM, RJ Rosalado of ABS-CBN News Zamboanga, Ricky Velasco of radio dzMM, and Agence France-Presse