CEBU CITY -- A ship that carried more than 700 passengers, including 55 infants, sank off the coast of Talisay City in Cebu after colliding with a cargo vessel Friday evening, killing at least 17 people.
Rescue operations were ongoing as of 3 a.m. Saturday, August 17, but authorities confirmed at least 17 people dead despite efforts by rescue teams and local fishermen to save as many passengers as they could.
Fourteen of the fatalities were brought to the Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes at Junquera St., Cebu City around 2 a.m. One of them was identified as Jonathan Ariel Cubaral based on the identification card recovered from the victim’s wallet.
Some of the dead were brought to Cebu City’s pier area, while others were declared dead in the Talisay City District Hospital and the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in this city. Among five bodies brought to the Cebu City pier, two still wore life jackets.
Coast Guard Cebu Station Commander Weniel Azcuna told radio dyHP that 2Go Shipping’s passenger vessel, the M/V Saint Thomas Aquinas, sank within 15 minutes after the collision.
The vessel was heading for a stopover in Cebu, on its way to Manila, when it collided with M/V Sulpicio Express Siete, which was bound for Davao.
The accident occurred near Lawis Ledge off Talisay, where several vessels have previously run aground, including a passenger ship late last February whose 360 passengers got stranded at sea for four hours.
Around midnight, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other agencies searched the dark waters off Talisay for passengers and crew. The 2Go ship captain, identified as certain Captain Bermejo, was reportedly among those rescued.
Azcuna said the Coast Guard received a call from the captain of the 2Go vessel at 9 p.m., asking for immediate help.
One of the survivors, Aldrin Rahman, told reporters that their vessel had left Nasipit in Butuan City at 12 p.m. They were scheduled to dock in Cebu for a stopover at 9 p.m.
But the vessel violently halted before it could reach Cebu’s port, before 10 p.m.
Rahman recalled that the ship then started sinking, causing the passengers to panic. Some jumped off the boat without putting on life jackets.
An ANCAlerts tweet, quoting the Coast Guard headquarters in Manila, said the 2Go vessel sank in a depth of 144 meters.
Reporters saw Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III checking on the survivors in the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, while Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama went to the pier area to get updates on the search.
The Saint Thomas Aquinas vessel carried 723 passengers, said Waterfront Police Chief Waldemar Tiu.
The Sulpicio Express cargo vessel had 36 crew members and officials.
Through the help of fishermen from Sitio Salvador, Barangay Tanke in Talisay City, an unconfirmed number of passengers were rescued while they bobbed in the waves.
More than 10 pump boats rushed to the sea and picked up passengers.
At least 64 passengers were brought to the Talisay City district hospital.
Car owners who heard initial reports about the accident rushed to the Cebu City pier and Talisay’s coastal communities to offer to bring survivors to the hospitals.
Another survivor, Jessica Varquez, 43, recalled the moment of impact.
“Niuyog ang barko, kusog kaayo. Nag-panic na dayon ang mga pasahero (The vessel shook violently and the passengers began to panic),” she said.
Vasquez said she and her nephew Jiecel, 18, immediately picked up life vests and jumped into the water while the vessel began to tilt.
“Niambak na lang mi nga wa sa among hunahuna kung mabuhi pa ba mi o mamatay (We jumped. We didn’t know whether we would survive or die),” she said.
Vasquez survived almost unscathed.
“Hapit na gyud ta mi maabot. Nahitabo pa gyud ang disgrasya (We were so close to the port, and then disaster struck),” she said.
Vasquez told Sun.Star Cebu she was supposed to visit her daughter in Barangay Yati, Liloan for the fiesta celebration.
Another survivor Mildred Lumapas, two months pregnant, said she heard a loud bang before the 2Go passenger vessel sank.
Lumapas was rescued by the fishermen in Kilawan, Tanke along with nine other survivors, namely: Domingo Mantilla of Butuan; Janley Ellera of San Juan, Bayugan; Gemma Domino of Alipay, Hinoog City; Glenda Abanella of Quezon City; Florenda Maghuyop of Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte; Rosanna Lamanilao of Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte; Normeley Sombreo of Surigao, Agusan Del Norte; Gloria Cabudbod of Bato, Leyte; and a boy.
For Pelarazem Bacor, 22, of Gingoog, Misamis Oriental, survival brought little relief.
It was his first time to board a ship. He still hasn’t found his mother, who got carried away when a herd of passengers began running for safety.
Bacor and his mother were headed to Dumaguete City to visit his aunt, who was about to celebrate her birthday.
The survivors were brought to the chapel in Sitio Salvador in Talisay, where they received treatment from medical personnel and clothes from residents.
In Barangay Cansojong, also in Talisay City, about 13 passengers of the 2Go passenger vessel were rescued by the Bantay Dagat and local fishermen.
At least 20 other survivors were rescued separately in Tanke, said Talisay City Vice Mayor Romeo Villarante.
One of the survivors, Adela Guevara, said the ship’s crew didn’t alarm them nor distribute life jackets while the ship was sinking. She and her four-year-old son were forced to jump off the ship.
They both survived, along with a group of six passengers. (DSM/JKV/With JAC and LRM/Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)