One headline in the Philippine Inquirer described it as “Just Like the Titanic, minus the icebergs”.

The big news here in the Philippines is another ferry accident, but this one with a happier ending than that of last year’s “Princess of the Stars” disaster, because this time, the ferry didn’t flip over in a typhoon, but listed slowly in the predawn darkness, only sinking after eight hours, allowing most of the passengers to get their life vests on, and be rescued by private vessels and by the Philippino Navy/Coast Guard.

The passing cargo and container ships arrived less than an hour after receiving a coast guard emergency call for assistance. About two hours later, two assault navy boats guided by two OV-10 bomber planes and two Huey helicopters arrived and began to pluck survivors from the ferry and the sea, regional military commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino said.

Right now, the estimates are nine dead (and those numbers still uncertain), and the happy headlines on the news now is that one lady in a life-jacket has been found alive after floating for thirty hours in the open sea.

The difference between this ferry accident and last year’s disaster was the rescue: The Princess of the Stars was caught in a typhoon and sank quickly, but rescue had been delayed because the captain had changed his course to the regular “shorter” route (closer to the typhoon) instead of taking shelter, meaning that although the passengers “texted” their relatives that the boat was sinking,  it was 24 hours until the wreck was found, and most passengers except for a few rescued by local fishermen had died quickly in the wild sea.

But this ferry capsizing has a lot more happy stories about the rescue, but then there are reports of not enough life rafts and life jackets, and desperate parents throwing their children into the ocean for fear that they would be caught inside the sinking ship.

Yet, like last year’s ferry disaster, there are ominous suggestions that there was a basic failure of judgment by those who sailed the ferry.

Originally, reports of a loud “thump” before the ferry’s acute listing to the side brought to mind the suspicion that it was terrorist related. After all, only last month the Abu Sayyaf terrorist who sank a ferry with a bomb in 2004, killing over 100 people, was captured by the Philippine military.

But now survivors claim that the ship had started listing several hours before the loud noise was heard, suggesting a cargo placement or overload problem causing listing.From the Philippine Star:

Passenger Roger Cinciron told dzMM radio by cell phone that he felt the ferry was tilting around midnight but he was assured by a crewman that everything was fine. About two hours later, he was roused from sleep by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he said.

As a precaution, the government has suspended the sailing by all ferries of the Aboitiz fleet.

Those who are trying to increase inspections and make sure that regulations are written and followed, are again confronted by an accident that might be due to ordinary carelessness.

To quote the BBC:

maritime accidents are common in the Philippines because of tropical storms, poor ship maintenance and lax safety enforcement.

However, when accidents do happen, local civilians and the Philippine military and will risk their lives and limb to save the victims.

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Two short notes: there is a lot of worry about an oil spill but so far this is small and only from the ship’s fuel supply.

Second, the US soldiers who are doing training in the area did help with one helicopter and some boats/medics, but I didn’t note it in the essay because they were merely providing some assistence to the Philippine military/Coast Guard.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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