Ferry sinks in northern Philippines, 28 dead

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Map of Cagayan showing the location of Ballesteros, site of the Philippine maritime disaster.

At least 28 people drowned and were confirmed dead, 46 were rescued, while 34 others remain missing on Sunday, after an overcrowded passenger motorboat capsized off waters in Ballesteros, a town of 17,000 people, the Cagayan police reported.

'M/B Mae Jan', a wooden-hulled ferry, was carrying 102 passengers, after an eight-hour voyage from Calayan Island in the Luzon Strait for Appari when it capsized less than 300 meters (984 feet) from its destination, at 8:30 p.m. Its bamboo outrigger broke due to strong waves, as it reached the mouth of the Cagayan River ('Bannag' Rio Grande de Cagayan, 'Ilog ng Kagayan'), along Barangay Linao, about 50 meters from the shoreline of Pallog village.

Divers from the combined teams of the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard helped in the rescue operations. 11 of the fatalities, including the vessel owner, Arellano, and her daughter were identified. The police said "there was a possibility that the boat was overloaded," saying that "there was also livestock on board." Due to "trauma," the ferry's captain refused to talk to police.

The Pinacanauan River, seen just below the Callao Caves, is one of the major tributaries of the Cagayan River.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) formed a Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) to investigate the sea tragedy. It ordered the "immediate dispatch of SAR-003 and MCS-3005 vessels and the PCG Islander for aerial surveillance." PCG noted the possible overloading of the vessel since the boat's franchise authorized it to carry only 40 passengers and 10 crew members.

In November, a cargo vessel sank in rough seas north of Cagayan, and passing vessels rescued 16 of 20 passengers. Weeks earlier, separate storms sank two passenger vessels in the central Philippines, drowning more than 50 people.

Prior to the ferry sinking, the Philippine weather bureau had issued Gale warnings to coastal towns, of approaching tropical storm "Ulysses" (international codename: Dolphin) from the Pacific with winds of up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) per hour, centered off southeastern Catanduanes, eastern Philippines.