MANILA -- Having less than two months to finish the probe as ordered by Malacañang, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) temporarily suspended its retrieval operation for the missing passengers of M/V Catalyn B after a coast guard died Friday.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that the victim, Petty Officer 3 Armand Bonifacio, and his buddy, a certain Petty Officer Cahilig, were retrieving a woman's body from the sunken M/V Catalyn B when the incident happened.

The ill-fated ship is sitting 221 feet under the waters off Limbones Island in Maragondon town.

Commodore Luis Tuazon Jr., PCG-National Capital Region commander, said that Bonifacio collapsed during the retrieval operation and was declared dead on arrival at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center Friday afternoon.

"Bonifacio died after suffering from cardiac arrest," Tuazon said based on the doctor's initial findings.

Marina Secretary Elena Bautista in a television report said they will comply with the Palace's directive in setting a February deadline for the sea tragedy probe.

She said that one of the reasons the operation has to be done immediately is that the peak season "is just about the corner." A lot of people will be traveling during summer and the deadline is a very good timeline to make way for more sea travel this season.

"It is just a matter of scheduling, including the fast result from the hearing that Marina could definitely demand," Bautista said.

She said the government aims to give justice to the victims. "We will closely monitor the retrieval and the ship owners' responsibility to compensate the families of the victims," Bautista said.

Bautista said that Marina would impose the highest penalty of the law on the ship owners, which is the suspension of franchise, when the investigation concludes. (Sunnex)