THE Coast Guard searched yesterday for a domestic cargo ship with 17 crewmen that disappeared after encountering big waves and reporting engine trouble.

Crewmen aboard the 498-ton SF Freighter radioed the ship’s owner, Seaford Shipping, on Saturday to report the problems but shortly afterward all contact was lost, Coast Guard Chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.

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The owner launched an initial search near the ship’s last known location off the coast of Marin-duque Province and contacted the Coast Guard, Tamayo said.

A Coast Guard plane spotted a ship yesterday off Marinduque, about 160 kilometers southeast of Manila, but later determined it was not the missing freighter, he said.

At least five government and private vessels were involved in the search, but bad weather and poor visibility hampered the effort.

Passing ships and coastal communities were told to be on the lookout for the ship, which was en route to Manila from Cebu Province, carrying a cargo of steel bars.

A conflicting report from the Coast Guard’s Central and Eastern Visayas Command said the freighter was bound for Cebu from Manila.

As of 8 last night, Capt. Anelito Gabisan, Central and Eastern Command spokesman, said the vessel remained missing.

The vessel’s home port is Iloilo.

Commander Elpidio Gunio, chief of the Coast Guard Cebu District, said even though Marinduque is under the jurisdiction of the Bicol Coast Guard District, they received information about the incident from their counterpart in Western Visayas.

According to the message received by Gunio, Eden Chua, manager of Seaford Shipping’s Bacolod office, said that while the vessel was heading for Cebu from Manila, it suffered engine trouble and lost power and radio contact in the vicinity of Hermanos Island.

Gusty wind and waves, meanwhile, pulled up the anchor of a cargo barge in Manila Bay late Saturday, causing it to ram five unoccupied huts and eight fishing boats in a coastal village in Navotas city. No injuries were reported.

A tropical depression, which has enhanced monsoon rains and winds in northern and central regions, moved away from the country yesterday.

Ship operators and crews were warned to expect rough seas. (AP/EOB)