AT LEAST 36 passengers died and 19 others remained missing after a motorized passenger boat bound for Pilar, Camotes capsized in the seawaters off the port of Ormoc City, Leyte yesterday noon.
Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Cdr. Armand Balilo said 36 bodies were recovered Thursday afternoon while 19 others remained missing.
There were 134 survivors brought to different hospitals in Ormoc.
M/B Kim Nirvana was bound for the island town of Pilar in Cebu when it capsized at 12:20 p.m., just minutes after it left the Ormoc port.
Lt. Christopher Gamet, Coast Guard Eastern Visayas District operations chief, said the boat, which carried 173 passengers and 16 crew members, capsized about 200 meters from the port while it was maneuvering toward Pilar.
The banca, which has a capacity of 178 people, also reportedly carried sacks of rice and cement.
In an ABS-CBN report last night, the Coast Guard Eastern Visayas station said it was looking at human error as a likely cause of the accident, since the winds and waves were moderate when it happened.
But earlier yesterday, Gamet said the weather could be a factor.
Big waves and strong winds caused it to capsize, he told Sun.Star Cebu.
Rescue operations continued last night, as some of those missing are believed to have been trapped in the boat’s hull.
The boat owned by Joge Bung Zarco measures 17 meters and has a gross tonnage of 33.58.
No storm warning
In a GMA 7 Cebu report, Gamet said the boat was allowed to sail because there was no public storm warning signal (PSWS) issued by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa).
But if there is no PSWS announcement from Pagasa, it is left to the discretion of the boat captain to assess the condition whether to sail out or cancel the trip, Gamet said.
Pilar Mayor Jesus Fernandez Jr. confirmed that his first-degree cousin and private secretary, Bontillo Galano Jr., was among the casualties.
Fernandez said municipal Councilor Willou Christopher Angus was also on board, but he survived and was recuperating in a hospital in Ormoc.
As of last night, four other relatives of the mayor remained missing. (He requested not to name them.)
Fernandez believes that up to 90 percent of the passengers are from Pilar, whose residents prefer to travel to Ormoc for various errands instead of going to mainland Cebu because it is closer to their town.
The trip to Ormoc from Pilar takes less than an hour.
His constituents would go to Ormoc to transact with utility companies or do bank errands, he said.
Many of his constituents also study in Ormoc.
The mayor learned about the tragedy after one of the survivors, his neighbor, called him.
In a radio dyLA interview, Fernandez said his cousin Galano, 60, filed a leave of absence yesterday and went to Ormoc for an important transaction.
He said it was Galano’s child who identified his body.
One of the possible reasons M/B Kim Nirvana was full is that it was the only boat that sailed yesterday.
Fernandez said that on a regular day, three passenger boats would travel from Pilar to Ormoc, and vice versa. The two other boats were under repair, he said.
The mayor said that M/B Kim Nirvana-B carried 92 passengers when it left Pilar for Ormoc.
He said that someone from Coast Guard personnel always makes sure the boat is not overloaded before it leaves the Pilar port.
Gov. Hilario Davide III, in a prepared statement, said he is saddened by the incident. He instructed the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office to get updates on the accident.
James Reyes of the Philippine Navy said the Naval Forces Central deployed a vessel and five divers to the area where the boat sank.
Pagasa earlier warned of big waves, moderate to heavy rains, and strong winds spawned by the Intertropical Convergence Zone across Visayas.
Pagasa also announced that the low pressure area spotted kilometers east of Luzon has developed into a tropical depression and was named Egay. No storm warning has been raised anywhere in the country.
As of 4 p.m. yesterday, Egay was located at 480 kilometers east of Virac, Catanduanes. It packed winds with speed of up to 55 kilometers per hour and moved northwest at 13 kilometers per hour.
Alice Canasa, Pagasa weather specialist, advised operators of small boats against going out to sea.
Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) 7 Legal Officer Jose Cabatingan said it is their counterpart in Region 8 based in Tacloban City that will investigate the sinking of MB Nirvana.
Under the law, the vessel owner or the ship captain is required to file a marine protest detailing the incident.
The Marina office that has territorial jurisdiction over the accident site is mandated to conduct the investigation, Cabatingan said. (John Carlo Cahinhinan and Jean Mondoñedo-Ynot of Sunnex)