MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Another sea tragedy hit the Philippines during the Christmas holidays after an inter-island ferry carrying more than 80 people sank off waters in Batangas province Saturday night, just days after a similar disaster claimed up to 27 lives.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), in its 3:30 p.m. bulletin on the incident, said 6 casualties have been recorded after MV Baleno 9 sank in waters off Verde Island in Batangas.
Danny Asedillo, Calapan Port terminal supervisor, identified 5 of the fatalities as Jenny Cabral Mutia, 36 of Socorro, Oriental Mindoro; Lealyn Penaranda, 20 of Pola, Oriental Mindoro; Angelica Balanza, 8-months old baby; Jennilyn Gutierrez and June Panagsayan.
MV Baleno 9, a roll-on roll-off (RORO) vessel, reportedly began listing and went down just before midnight near Batangas City.
Sixty-two passengers have been rescued, while 20 people remain missing, according to the PCG bulletin.
Nineteen survivors were rescued by MV de los Angeles, 35 by MV Baleno 3, 7 by PCG vessel SARV 3504 while MV Baleno 5 rescued 1, said the PCG bulletin.
Lieutenant Commander Troy Cornelio, PCG Batangas station chief, disclosed earlier that some of the survivors have been found on Verde Island.
Citing the passenger manifest submitted by the vessel before sailing, PCG said there were 14 crewmen and 74 passengers onboard the ill-fated ferry.
Authorities have released the names of the rescued survivors. (Read: List of survivors in MV Baleno 9 sinking)
There were also discrepancies in initial reports on the number of passengers onboard with 1 report saying that there were 20 passengers only and 16 crew members.
Cornelio said the PCG will look into the “huge discrepancies” in the total number of people onboard MV Baleno 9 once it conducts its investigation on the disaster.
The ill-fated RORO vessel, which left Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro at 9:30 p.m., has a maximum capacity to carry 284 people, Cornelio said.
“We will [also] see [if] the vessel is overloaded in terms of its cargo,” he told ANC’s “Dateline Philippines Sunday.”
He said more than 10 vessels and search aircraft have been dispatched to the area to look for more survivors. He said the search and rescue operations will last "probably for the whole week."
Aeris Glenn Musngi, one of the survivors, recounted that around 10:30 p.m. the ferry began to tilt to its side, prompting the passengers, who were roused from their sleep, to jump off the ship.
He said the whole incident happened so fast.
Musngi, who believed that more than 100 people died in the disaster, also blamed the tragedy to the ship’s cargo.
Other survivors also told the Coast Guard that the MV Baleno 9 began taking on water from the bow ramp.
This "severely affected the stability of the vessel causing her to badly list and eventually sink," the coast guard report said.
"Hopefully, their (search) flights will not be fruitless and they may find a few more of the missing," said Coast Guard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo.
He noted that the ferry had sufficient life vests and life rafts and that this may have allowed more of those on board to escape alive.
"We always hope that there will be survivors," he told a local radio station.
Lilian Moreno, meanwhile, is anxiously awaiting word on the fate of her relatives who are among those who remain unaccounted for.
She said her son, his wife and 3 children were onboard the MV Baleno 9 when it capsized. She said her son had tried to save his wife and 3 children, who were then sleeping inside their van, when the ferry tilted.
“Nang nabuksan ‘yong likod ng van, ‘yong mga sasakyan tumagilid na po kaya hindi na niya natulungan,” Moreno said.
Her son, she said, jumped off the ferry and survived.
MV Baleno 9 is owned by Besta Shipping Lines. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the incident.
Less than a day before Christmas, a passenger ferry sank off Cavite province after colliding with a fishing vessel. A total of 46 people have been rescued and 3 bodies have been retrieved, said PCG. It was carrying at total of 73 passengers, including crewmembers.
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said Friday that the 24 missing passengers may have been trapped inside the vessel after it smashed into a trawler off the coast of Limbones Island. Search operations are still ongoing.
Authorities have also rescued a total of 130 passengers after another ferry ran aground in Dumaguete City in the province of Negros Oriental on Saturday.
The passengers of MV Shuttle Ferry 8, most of whom came from a Christmas vacation, were rescued from the ferry in a 3-hour operation by the PCG. The rescue operation began at 12 a.m. Sunday and ended at 3 a.m.
MV Shuttle Ferry 18 left Dumaguete City for Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte at 6 p.m. Saturday. It was supposed to arrive in Dapitan at 10 p.m.
The Philippines experiences frequent shipping accidents, usually involving poorly-maintained, overloaded ferries, which are the backbone of travel between the archipelago's islands.
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 4,000 people. -Reports from by Arnell Ozaeta, ABS-CBN Southern Tagalog, Johnson Manabat, dzMM, and Agence France-Presse