'Many' bodies found in sunken Philippine ship

Rescue divers have found "many" bodies inside a ferry which sank in a typhoon over the weekend with over 800 passengers on board, off the Philippine coast. So far only 33 people have been found alive.


SIBUYAN ISLAND, Philippines, June 24 (Reuters) - Divers
found ghostly white bodies floating head up inside a sunken
passenger ferry in the central Philippines on Tuesday raising
fears of a mass grave below the waves.

The MV Princess of the Stars had over 800 people on board
when it capsized and flipped over in huge swells off the cost
of Sibuyan island during a typhoon on Saturday.

There are fears that hundreds more bodies may be trapped
within the 23,824 tonne vessel.

Two bloated male corpses were cut free from a tangle of
cables and brought to the surface. One, believed to be a crew
member, had a radio.

"It will be a miracle if we find survivors," Lieutenant
Commander Inocencio Rosario of the coast guard said.

Officials plan to bore a hole inside the vessel to retrieve
more corpses.

Drilling will have to be done cautiously because the ship,
which is resting upside down with only the tip of its bow above
water, is estimated to have around 100,000 litres of bunker
fuel still on board.

A slick of oil had formed around the ship, but local
officials said it did not represent a leak.

Residents from nearby Sibuyan island gathered along the
shoreline to watch the grim retrieval operation. The smell of
diesel hung in the air.

Earlier, a helicopter from U.S. military ship, the USNS
Stockham, spotted 12 bodies floating near Masbate island, at
least 70 km east of Sibuyan, local radio reported. It was
unclear if they were from the Princess of the Stars.

So far only around 33 people have been found alive out of
864 passengers and crew on board.


Sulpicio Lines, the owner of Princess of the Stars, offered
to fly one family member per victim to Manila from Cebu, where
the ship was meant to dock, to help identify recovered bodies.

But the distraught relatives did not want to be moved.

In Manila, family members also waited anxiously.

"We want to see our relatives, even if they are dead
already," said Rey Gilbuena, who had 18 kin on board.

Families are irate at the company for proceeding with a
sailing when Typhoon Fengsen, with gusts of upto 195 kph (120
mph), had already hit the archipelago on Friday.

The government has ordered a review of maritime regulations
and suspended Sulpicio's passenger ferry operations pending

The company has been involved in three other major shipping
disasters in the past 21 years, including the world's worst
peacetime sea tragedy in 1987 when the Sulpicio-owned Dona Paz
ferry collided with an oil tanker killing more than 4,000

Shipping tragedies are a common event in the Philippines,
an archipelago of over 7,000 islands where safety rules are
poorly implemented and substandard vessels ply dangerous

Aside from the ferry disaster, possibly the worst in the
Philippines in over 20 years, at least 155 people were killed,
largely by drowning, in a torrent of floods in the south and
centre of the archipelago, according to the Red Cross.

The sixth typhoon to hit the archipelago this year badly
damaged the country's already shoddy infrastructure, washing
away thousands of homes as well as roads and bridges.

In Iloilo, the province worst hit by Fengshen, over 200,000
people were forced to evacuate and local officials said it
could take a week for two metre high floodwaters to recede.

Fengshen was expected to bring more rain to already
flood-ravaged southern and eastern China as it makes landfall
near Shantou in Guangdong province on Wednesday, according to
the tropical storm monitoring website Tropical Storm Risk

Authorities in the coastal province of Guangdong have
ordered local governments to prepare disaster relief work.

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