Rescuers considered boring a hole in an overturned ferry on Monday in a desperate attempt to find survivors among more than 800 missing passengers and crew, after Typhoon Fengshen carved its deadly swath through the Philippines.
Hopes dwindled by the hour that large groups of survivors might be found in areas where communications were cut off by the weekend storm that left 163 people dead in flooded communities.
Divers rapped on the hull of the 23,824-ton Princess of Stars but heard no response from inside. Only 38 wave-battered survivors have been found so far, including 28 who drifted at sea for more than 24 hours in life jackets before they were found on Sunday about 80 miles (130 kilometres) to the north in Mulanay township, in eastern Quezon province. But bodies were washing up on shore to the west and northwest, too.
On Sunday the Philippines Coastguard, which battled high seas to reach the wreck, released photographs of its upturned hull to the media. The coast guard said it was checking a survivor's report that at least one group of people, dead and alive, had been spotted bobbing in the sea. A number of coast guard and navy ships swarmed to the area but were largely kept at bay by big waves in the still-roiling waters.
A U.S. Navy ship was being dispatched from Okinawa. Officials initially reported 747 passengers and crew were aboard the ferry, but said Monday that it was carrying about 100 more. While some relatives tearfully waited for news, others were angry that the ship was allowed to leave Manila late on Friday for a 20-hour trip to Cebu with a typhoon approaching. Debate began anew on safe-sailing rules in a country prone to storms - Fengshen was the seventh typhoon this year - and dependent on ferries to get around the sprawling archipelago. "We just want to know if they survived or not, at least we don't have to keep on worrying rather than keeping us inside the office. Some people are just starting to get angry," said Antoinette Vinzon, a relative of one of the passengers.
The ship ran aground around at noon on Saturday a few miles (kilometres) off central Sibuyan island, then capsized. "Sulpicio Lines deeply mourns the tragic loss of lives and its good ship, Princess of Stars, last 21st June 2008, losing to the untamed fury of mother nature in an unfortunate tragedy that nobody, least of all the company, wanted to happen," Edgar Go, Vice-president of Sulpicio Lines which owns the ship said.
The coast guard said it was waiting for calmer seas before a rescue operation could be launched. "We are just waiting for water to be more calm and that would enable our divers to penetrate, to try to penetrate the ship," Commander Luis Tuason said. Survivor Reynato Lanoria, a janitor on the ship, estimated about 100 people could have escaped the vessel, but thought the others were trapped inside.
Lanoria said he was on the top deck when a crew member ordered people to put on life vests. About 30 minutes later, the ship began tilting so fast that elderly people and children fell on the slippery deck.
After the storm stymied earlier attempts to reach the ship and kept aircraft at bay, a rescue vessel battled huge waves and strong winds to approach Sunday, more than 24 hours after the ferry lost radio contact.
The Philippines was the scene of the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster when the ferry Dona Paz sank in 1987, killing more than 4,341 people.
Story courtesy of ABC.