Philippines ferry tragedy: Death toll rises to 50, murder complaints filed against owner

The bodies were recovered hours after coast guard spokesman said all 187 passengers and crew members on the M/B Kim Nirvana had been accounted for, with 45 dead, 142 survivors and no reports of anyone else missing.

By: Associated Press | Manila | Updated: July 4, 2015 3:47:01 pm
Rescuers help passengers from a capsized ferry boat, center, in Ormoc city on Leyte Island, Philippines, Thursday, July 2, 2015. A ferry capsized Thursday as it left a central Philippine port in choppy waters, leaving dozens dead and many others missing, coast guard officials said. (Ignatius Martin/Miquicar Photostudio via AP) Rescuers help passengers from a capsized ferry boat, center, in Ormoc city on Leyte Island, Philippines, Thursday, July 2, 2015. A ferry capsized Thursday as it left a central Philippine port in choppy waters, leaving dozens dead and many others missing, coast guard officials said. (Ignatius Martin/Miquicar Photostudio via AP)

Rescuers on Friday retrieved five more bodies from a ferry that capsized just moments after departing from a central Philippine port, raising the death toll to 50.

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The bodies were recovered hours after coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said all 187 passengers and crew members on the M/B Kim Nirvana had been accounted for, with 45 dead, 142 survivors and no reports of anyone else missing. The vessel overturned in choppy waters on Thursday off Ormoc City.

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Balilo said the new bodies were found after a floating crane pulled the 36-ton wooden vessel close to shore. The additional fatalities raised questions about the number of people on board, and Balilo said they will have to recheck the number of survivors and investigate if the crew allowed people not on the manifest to board the ferry.

The outrigger was leaving Ormoc port en route to one of the Camotes Islands, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the south, when it was lashed by strong waves and capsized, he said.

The captain and some of the crew are in custody pending an investigation, Balilo said.

“Among the things we will look into is if there was a faulty maneuver, the stability of the vessel, and of course the weather,” he added.

Regional coast guard commander Capt. Pedro Tinampay told DZBB radio in Manila that the movement of cargo inside the ferry may have contributed to the accident. The ferry was carrying heavy construction materials and bags of rice.

Ormoc, a regional economic and transportation hub of about 200,000 people, is located in a disaster-prone eastern region that is regularly hit by some of the approximately 20 tropical storms and typhoons that blow in from the Pacific each year.

Murder complaints filed over capsized Philippine ferry

Police in a central Philippine city said Saturday that they have filed murder complaints against the owner and the crew of a ferry that capsized shortly after pulling out of port, leaving more than 50 people dead.

The complaints were filed with the local prosecutor late Friday as the 36-ton M/B Kim Nirvana was lifted from the water, said Senior Inspector Rio Tan of the Ormoc City police. The local prosecutor will review the complaints to determine whether there is enough evidence to file charges.

At least 59 people died and 145 survived Thursday’s disaster, including all 18 crew members, said regional coast guard commander Capt. Pedro Tinampay.

Tinampay said a maritime casualty investigation that has begun will determine how many people actually were aboard the vessel. The 204 so far known to have been on board are more than the 189 initially reported, Tinampay said, adding that authorities will reconcile different figures for survivors and casualties.

The ferry overturned minutes after pulling out of the port on its voyage to one of the Camotes Islands, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the south.

Murder complaints were filed against ferry owner Joge Bung Zarco, boat captain Warren Oliverio and 17 other crew members, Tan said.

Some passengers reported that the boat suddenly swerved to the right, possibly causing its cargo, including 80 sacks of cement, to shift to one side of the ferry, Tinampay said.

“It capsized and its right outrigger broke,” he said. “The captain suddenly turned the boat to the right, and we have people saying that.”

Oliverio denied he made a sudden turn, blaming the strong waves for flipping his boat. “It was the waves,” he told ABS-CBN television. He said that he could not have made any sudden turn because there was another vessel close to the ferry.

Lawrence Drake, a retired American firefighter who was among the survivors, disagreed with the complaints, saying that the crew members, especially the captain, did all they could to save the passengers.

“It’s wrong. It’s wrong. I feel bad,” he said by phone from Ormoc.

Drake said Oliverio stripped down to his underpants, jumped into the water to grab people drifting away, and then put them on one of the outriggers to cling to while waiting for rescue boats.

Drake also disputed accounts that the captain abruptly turned the boat, causing it to capsize.

“That is 100 percent incorrect. I was 10 feet from the captain,” he said, recounting that he was in the front seat of the boat at the time.

Drake said the water was rough, with waves “flying over my head” as he revived a woman with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, one of two people the former upstate New York firefighter said he helped save that day.

Drake was heading with his Filipino wife and her mother, who both survived, to Camotes, where he lives.

Tinampay said eight bodies were recovered from the boat after it was hoisted out of the water. City rescue group head Ciriaco Tolibao said three more bodies were recovered from the sea early Saturday.

The boat remains belly up on the Ormoc wharf and will be turned upright to allow investigators to get a closer look, Tinampay said.

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