Arroyo orders Coast Guard review after ferry capsizes

PHILIPPINES president Gloria Arroyo has ordered a review of Coast Guard procedures as up to 800 are missing after the ferry Princess of the Stars capsized in a typhoon.

Just 34 survivors have so far been found from the 23,824 gt Suplicio Lines, owned Princess of the Stars which capsized on Saturday 16 hours after setting sail from Manila as typhoon Fengshan approached the country.

President Arroyo ordered Coast Guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo to review the warning procedures for barring vessels from sailing ahead of a typhoon.

The ferry had set sail from Manila’s North Harbour at 20-00hrs on Friday as rules prohibiting sailing given the typhoon warning only applies to small to medium-sized vessels.

”No vessel shall sail except to take shelter if public storm signal warning is hoisted in the point of origin, the route, and the point of destination, so it’s not true what you said yesterday that there are no absolute prohibitions. There are,” President Arroyo told Edward Go, owner of Sulpicio Lines, local media reported.

Sulpicio Lines entire fleet has been suspended.

Coast Guard vessels continued high winds and rough seas on today in hope of finding more survivors.

”We are checking whether there were people trapped inside the ferry,” said Vice Admiral Tamayo. “We might have to drill holes so our divers can access it.” The Philippines authorities are hoping some passengers may have survived in an air pocket inside the hull of stricken vessel.

Survivors spoke of chaos as the vessel sank just 15 minutes after Capt. Florencio Marimon issued the order to abandon ship. According to surviving crew member Renato Lamorias many passengers were unable to make it lifeboats and only around half of the 700 passengers were wearing lifejackets.

Other survivors reported passengers leaping overboard into rough seas without lifevests.

The Philippines has a history of tragic ferry disasters and Sulpicio Lines has had six such disasters over the last 21 years, including the world’s worst peacetime maritime tragedy.

In 1987 Sulpicio-owned ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker killing over 4,000 people.

Ferries form a major part of the transport network in the Philippines an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. However tonnage is often old, poorly maintained and overcrowded.

* A spokesman for classification society Bureau Veritas confirmed that the vessel was classed by BV who had also issued its ISM certificate. He expressed the company’s regret at the loss of life, adding that the ferry had passed its special survey last year and BV was not aware of any problems. Bureau Veritas would be cooperating fully with the enquiry, he said.