Ricky Pomoy, left, holds a print out of his missing wife Alma while Roderick Mama holds another print out of his missing wife and son as a woman checks the list of survivors posted on the wall of the 2GO shipping company Sunday Aug. 18, 2013 in Cebu city, central Philippines.

Bullit Marquez, Associated Press - Ap

Navy marshal Richard Pestillos, left, of the Philippine Navy and Joseph Austria of the Philippine Coast Guard, show their M-16 rifles and other items they saved as they recount to the Associated Press Sunday Aug.18, 2013 in Cebu city, central Philippines how they saved the lives of about two dozen passengers of the ill-fated MV Thomas Aquinas when it collided with the cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete off the coast of Talisay near Cebu Friday. Pestillos and Austria, both "sea marshals" of the ferry, were lauded by authorities for saving passengers in the incident. Divers plucked two more bodies from a sunken passenger ferry Sunday and scrambled to plug an oil leak in the wreckage after a collision with a cargo ship near the central Philippine port of Cebu that has left 39 dead and more than 80 others missing, officials said.

Bullit Marquez, Associated Press - Ap

Death toll hits 50 in Philippines ferry accident

  • Article by: BULLIT MARQUEZ
  • Associated Press
  • August 18, 2013 - 11:00 PM

CEBU, Philippines — As the MV Thomas Aquinas cruised toward Cebu city in the central Philippines, navy marshal Richard Pestillos prepared for a brief stop while some passengers watched a band play and others soaked in the night breeze on the deck.

Then the scene turned chaotic when the ferry, with 870 passengers and crew, collided with a cargo ship late Friday, ripping a hole in the ferry's hull, knocking out its power and causing it to list before rapidly sinking as people screamed, according to Pestillos and other witnesses.

"The sea was very calm and we could already see the lights at the pier," Pestillos told The Associated Press on Sunday by telephone.

"Then very suddenly ... there was a loud bang, then the grating sound of metal being peeled off," he said.

Coast guard officials said at least 50 died and 70 were missing in the deadly collision 570 kilometers (350 miles) south of Manila. Hampered by a thunderstorm and strong currents, divers temporarily halted their search Monday.

Frequent storms, badly maintained vessels and weak enforcement of safety regulations have been blamed for many past accidents at sea in the Phillipines, including in 1987 when the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.

Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III said 750 passengers and crew of the Thomas Aquinas were rescued. There were no signs of additional survivors late Sunday, though Davide told reporters he had not given up hope.

Pestillos, one of several people praised for saving others in the accident, said he distributed life jackets and launched life rafts before creating his own flotation device by tying three life jackets to his navy service rifle.

As the ferry sank, Pestillos said he fell into water that reeked of oil and was hit by a falling life boat. He said he gave his homemade flotation device to a woman who needed it to stay afloat.

He said he lost sight of her when he went to help seven others, including two toddlers, toward an overturned life boat.

Pestillos said rescuers found his rifle still tied to the life jackets, but it was not clear what happened to the woman.

"I'm really praying that she also made it to the shore alive," he said.

Cebu coast guard chief Commodore William Melad said records of hospitals, rescuers and the ferry owner indicate that 754 passengers and 116 crew were aboard the ferry when the accident occurred.

Coast guard deputy chief Rear Adm. Luis Tuason said some of the missing could still be trapped in the sunken ferry, which has been leaking oil.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said the cargo ship was leaving the Cebu pier when it smashed into the ferry's right side near the rear. He said the ferry was arriving from southern Agusan del Sur province and making a brief stop in Cebu before proceeding to Manila.

Outbound and incoming ships are assigned separate routes in the narrow channel leading to the busy Cebu pier. It is not known if one of the vessels strayed into the wrong lane, coast guard officials said.

"There was probably a non-observance of rules," Melad told reporters in Cebu on Sunday, but he said the investigation will start after the search and rescue work ends.


Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Joeal Calupitan, Oliver Teves, Teresa Cerojano and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.

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