17 dead, hundreds rescued after Philippine ships crash
A body lies in a morgue at a hospital in Cebu after a ferry collided with a cargo ship in Cebu, central Philippines on August 17, 2013. A ferry in the Philippines sank after colliding with a cargo ship Friday, leaving at least 17 people dead and many others feared missing, while nearly 600 were rescued, authorities said.
The Thomas Aquinas ferry, which was believed to be carrying about 700 passengers, sank within half an hour of the night-time accident near the port of Cebu, the country's second biggest city, coastguard spokesman Commander Armando Balilo said.
A rescue mission involving coastguard, navy and private vessels was launched immediately after the collision, which authorities said occurred between two and three kilometres (1.2-1.8 miles) from shore in calm waters.
"They are using search lights to scan the waters, but still there is a possibility you can miss those floating at sea. Rescuers are trying to get to all of them," Joy Villages, an official at the coastguard's public affairs office headquarters in Manila, told AFP
Within about three hours of the accident, rescuers had saved 573 people but 17 people were confirmed killed, according to Villages.
She said the rescue effort was aided by the calm weather and water, however it was unclear how many people were still missing.
There were 692 people on board, according to the manifest, but ferries in the Philippines are often overcrowded.
"We are still checking the manifest as to how many exactly were aboard," Villages said.
Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry's owners, told Cebu radio station DYSS that the ship was sailing into port when it collided head-on with the cargo ship.
"The impact was very strong," she said, adding that the ferry sank within 30 minutes of the collision.
Cebu coastguard commander Weniel Azcuna told reporters the cargo ship, Sulpicio Express 7, had 36 crew members on board, but it did not sink.
Ferries are one of the main modes of transport across the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, particularly for the millions of people too poor to fly.
But sea accidents are common, with poor safety standards, lax enforcement and overloading typically to blame.
The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near the capital, Manila, in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.
In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.
However Villagas and other officials said it was too early to determine the cause of Friday's collision, which occurred at 9:00 pm (1300 GMT).
She said the Thomas Aquinas was a "roll-on, roll-off" ferry that allows vehicles to be driven aboard and is commonly used in the Philippines.
Details on the cargo ship were not immediately available.
In June, seven people died when another roll-on, roll-off ferry mysteriously sank in calm waters in the central Philippines.
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