3 die in ferry fire

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Monday, August 22, 2011


CEBU CITY -- Three persons died and 67 were rescued after a fast craft plying the Cebu City-Tubigon, Bohol route caught fire near Mucaboc islet in Bohol, 10 miles from the Tubigon port.

The Island Express I, a vessel of Island Shipping Lines, was carrying 70 people, including officers and crew, when the accident happened.

Passengers and crew were waiting on top of the vessel when a competitor, Sea Jet of Aleson Shipping Lines with Capt. Camilo P. Alvarez at the helm, passed by at 10:30 a.m. and rescued them.

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“The ship was covered by thick smoke when we got near it. We saw the people on top of it and instructed all of them to wear life jackets before transferring to our vessel,” Alvarez told Sun.Star Cebu.

He said the Island Express I sank shortly after the rescue.

“Had we not been able to pass by and rescue them immediately, most of the 67 survivors could have died,” Alvarez added.

Alvarez said the Island Express I left Cebu at 9 a.m., while Sea Jet departed 35 minutes after that.

Quoting Tubigon police, radio dyHP identified the fatalities as Matea Empuesto, 29, and Nicetas Cabrera, 35, both of Lapu-Lapu City; and Abelardo Torredillas, 50, the chief mate of Island Express I.

The initial indication is that chief mate Torredillas suffocated while trying to help passengers. Cabrera and Empuesto were found floating in the water, already dead.

They were in the morgue of the Tubigon Community Hospital in Tubigon, Bohol as of this posting.

Dr. Emmanuel Labella and his brother Cebu City Councilor Edgardo Labella were supposed to take the Sea Jet at 1:30 p.m. from Tubigon back to Cebu City, when they learned that their trip would be delayed because of the rescue.

Councilor Labella said the officers and crew of Sea Jet led by Capt. Alvarez must be commended for setting aside competition and rescuing the passengers and crew of Island Express I.

SPO4 Orlando Urbano of the Tubigon police said all the survivors were brought to Tubigon Community Hospital for check-up and treatment.

One of the survivors, Adelfa Nisa of Cordova, Cebu, said she and her 3-year-old son left for Tubigon Sunday on the Island Express I to attend her aunt’s wake.
At 10:15 a.m., while the vessel was sailing near Mucaboc islet, thick smoke suddenly rose from the engine room, going toward the passengers’ area.

Nisa said all of them scampered for safety. They decided to wear life jackets and planned to jump into the sea because they feared the vessel might explode or the smoke might suffocate them.

Capt. Anelito Gabisan, commander of the Philippine Coast Guard in Bohol based in Tagbilaran City, said they are now preparing for the investigation.

He said they expect the management of Island Shipping Corp. to file a marine protest on the accident.

This is the second major sea mishap involving Island Shipping Corp. in 10 years. The first was when its service boat, while transferring passengers from Island Express V to port, collided with a fishing boat at Hagnaya port in San Remegio, Cebu last December 22, 2001.

Ten passengers of Island Express V died in that accident.

In Sunday’s case, Commander Rolando Punzalan of the Cebu Coast Guard said they quickly sent divers and a medical team to Tubigon to check on the survivors.

Punzalan also ordered a search and rescue operation in the area where the vessel caught fire.

“The Sea Jet was the savior. Without it, probably there would have been more fatalities,” Councilor Labella said.

Captain Alvarez of the Sea Jet said his crew did their best to save the passengers on the other craft.

“Nakita nako umuusok na ilang vessel, so paglapit namo sa ilang vessel, I instructed the passengers to jump off. Dili mi makalapit pag-ayo kay basin maapil mi kasunog (Smoke was coming off the vessel when we approached them, so I instructed the passengers to jump off. We could not stay too close to the Island Express I for too long because we might catch fire too),” he said.

Sun.Star Cebu tried to interview Island Shipping owner Alex Tan at Pier 3 Sunday, but he declined. (With Jill B. Tatoy & Elly T. Bolonos of Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 22, 2011.

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