Sea tragedy in Cavite strikes before Christmas Day

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 24 2009 08:10 AM | Updated as of Dec 25 2009 09:33 PM

MANILA, Philippines (4th Update) – Hours before Christmas Eve, a sea tragedy occurred in waters off Limbones Island in Cavite on Thursday after a fishing boat and a ferry loaded with passengers travelling to spend the Christmas holidays in the provinces collided.

Rescue boats picked up 46 people from passenger vessel, MV Catalyn B, as it began to sink following the collision, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said.

He said, however, that 3 bodies have been recovered.

"Our search teams have found 3 bodies, but we continue to search for two dozen still missing," he told reporters early afternoon.

The body of a woman wearing a life jacket was retrieved by rescuers. Two other bodies were seen floating near where the passenger vessel sank, Balilo said.

The 3 bodies were taken to the PCG headquarters in Manila. They were identified as Relly Morales 71 years old; Beverly Cabinillo, 24 years old; and a certain Welmar,

Balilo announced the recovery of a fourth body in mid-afternoon but gave no other details.

Clear weather

The weather was clear at the time of the accident and officials said they would investigate what caused the collision.

Balilo said that MV Catalyn B, a wooden hull motorized vessel with 14 crew members and 59 passengers, left Pier 2 of North Harbor, Manila Wednesday night.

The vessel, which was bound for Tilik, Lubang Island in Mindoro, collided with the fishing vessel FV Anatalia and sank some 2.8 nautical miles northwest of Limbones Island at 2:25 a.m. Thursday.

FV Anatalia was proceeding to the Navotas Fishport from Turtle Island in Palawan.

A total of 46 people have been rescued, including 33 passengers and 13 crew members. At least 23 of the 73 on board MV Catalyn B are still missing.

The PCG sent 3 boats -- BRP Pampanga (SSARV 003), MT Tug Habagat (TB-271) and BRP Nueva Vizcaya (SARV 3502) -- to Cavite to conduct search and rescue operations. PCG Commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo also issued a notice to mariners in the area so that they can help with the rescue operations.

A PCG statement later said an air and naval search was continuing, with other private ships diverting from their course to join the rescue.

Rescue operations were, however, reportedly being hampered by strong winds and big waves.

Human error eyed

Commodore Luis Tuazon, regional PCG chief, said human error might have caused the collision. He noted that it was the passenger ferry that smashed into the side of the fishing vessel.

"This is a small vessel with a single wooden hull. Water rushed in and the vessel sank not long after the collision," he said over local radio.

"It is clear there was a problem in observing the rules," he added, saying that one or other of the vessels must have failed to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

“They are supposed to pass port to port, kaliwa sa kaliwa. However there could be some reasons, explanations expected from FB Anatalia as to why the vessel continued sailing crossing the path of MV Catalyn-B,” said Tuazon.

Tuazon said a marine inquiry would establish which of the two crews was at fault. All but one of the crew members have been accounted for, he added.

The 369-ton fishing boat Anatalia -- was damaged but was afloat and later helped in the rescue, spokesman Balilo said.

'Sank in seconds'

Myranel Cajayon, survivor passenger of MV Catalyn B, said she heard a loud sound then water rushed in immediately. She said the boat then turned to the side and then sank within seconds.

She said she was lucky that they were on the side of the boat with less people. She said she was able to escape through a window. Other passengers, however, were not as lucky and were still in the vessel when it sank, said Cajayon.

She said that she and other survivors held on to wooden planks to float.

Tuazon said that the ferry’s crew were not able to warn the passengers, according to initial interviews with the survivors.

“They were not able to make any announcement on the public address system since the vessel sank… They were all shocked to find themselves in the water after two minutes following the collision,” said Tuazon.

Tuazon also said that most of the passengers were asleep at the time of the collision. A survivor said the collision occurred about 2 a.m.

“The passengers, most of them who were sleeping at that time, taking a nap. They were expecting to reach Tilik, Lubang [Island] at about 5 a.m.... Most of them were not able to don their lifejackets,” said Tuazon.

The survivors were taken aboard a PCG ship and were taken to the PCG headquarters where they were treated for wounds and exhaustion. A thanksgiving mass was also held at the Coast Guard headquarters and was attended by the survivors and their kin.

Sea disasters

Ferries are an important mode of transport in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,100 islands. But, accidents are common because if overcrowding, poor maintenance and tropical storms.

Officials say bad weather, poor maintenance, overcrowding of vessels and lax enforcement of regulations have contributed to disasters, and water voyages in the busy Christmas period are particularly fraught with danger.

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.

In June 2008 another ferry, MV Princess of the Stars, sailed into a typhoon and tipped over off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.

A series of tragedies have struck the Philippines over recent months.

In September, the first of two powerful tropical storms battered the nation, claiming more than 1,000 lives and wreaking devastation across large swathes of the country.

In November, 57 people were slain in an election-linked massacre in a lawless region in the country's south.

And more than 47,000 people are facing Christmas in evacuation camps and temporary accommodation around Mount Mayon, south of Manila, as the rumbling volcano threatens a violent eruption.

No cyclone

The weather bureau meanwhile noted that there is no tropical cyclone within the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).

According to the PAGASA 5 a.m. bulletin, a northeast monsoon is currently affecting Luzon and Visayas while a diffused tail-end of a cold front is affecting Mindanao.

The weather bureau noted that there is no tropical cyclone within the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR).

Luzon and Eastern Visayas are expected to have mostly cloudy skies with scattered light rains while Mindanao will experience cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms.

The rest of the country, on the other hand, will be partly cloudy to cloudy with isolated rainshowers or thunderstorms.

Moderate to strong winds blowing from the northeast will prevail over Luzon, Visayas and Eastern Mindanao. The coastal waters along these areas will be moderate to rough. Winds will be light to moderate coming from the northeast elsewhere with slight to moderate seas. With reports from Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News and Agence France-Presse and Reuters