The Philippine Coast Guard said that rescue operations were continuing after an inter-island ferry sank in waters off Quezon Province in southeastern Philippines. PCG/Released, File

4 people dead, 81 missing as ferry sinks in waters off Quezon
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - December 21, 2017 - 10:46am

MANILA, Philippines — Four people were dead and 81 remain missing when an inter-island ferry sank Thursday after it was battered by ferocious winds and waves in waters off Quezon Province. according to the Philippine Coast Guard.

Capt. Armand Balilo, Coast Guard spokesman, said that based on the latest figure they received from the ground they had already rescued 166 individuals who were bound for Polilio Island when the ferry capsized.

"Commodore [Joel] Garcia's order is to continue the search and rescue operations even into the night and to coordinate with other rescue units that can help," Balilo said in a mix of Filipino and English, adding that they had already issued a notice to mariners in the region to help in the search and rescue operations likely to stretch into Friday night.

Balilo said they had already coordinated with the military's Southern Luzon command in Lucena City for the possible deployment of its Navy and Air Force assets in the rescue area. He added that Coast Guard assets might fly Saturday if operations were still ongoing by then.

Early Friday, Balilo said that a rescue operation was launched after they received a report at 11:12 a.m. that the vessel "Mercraft 2" sank in the vicinity of the waters between Dinahican Quezon and Polilo Island.

He added that six rescue units, including the Navy, a private ship and the PCG, were involved in operations to salvage the ferry which had a maximum capacity of 286 passengers.

The Coast Guard spokesperson said they could not yet ascertain the reason for the incident, but the weather could have played a factor. He said that although no storm was affecting the area, the northeast monsoon was prevailing on the eastern seaboard which could have led to the sinking.

"[W]e are not discounting the possibility that the weather may have been a factor in the incident although there are no storms or prohibition from sailing. We are not discounting it," he said, adding that waves in the waters off Quezon are normally high at this time of the year.

"As of now we will wait for the investigation, but we are not discounting the possibility that the weather triggered the possibility," he added.

The incident occurred during the busiest travel season for Filipinos during which millions try to make it home in their provinces just in time for Christmas and New Year.

Sea travel is risky in many parts of the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, as standards are seldom observed, and vessels of questionable integrity sail out in seas largely undetected by authorities.

Storms, which regularly batter the country, have been blamed for past sea disasters in the Philippines where the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster occurred in December 1987 after MV Doña Paz capsized off the coast of Mindoro, killing more than 4,000 people, many of whom burned alive at sea.

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