RESCUED Rovelyn Combalicer (right) and her daughter Kyla, 11 (second from left), and other passengers of the MV Mercraft 3, which sank on Thursday between Barangay Dinahican in Infanta town and Polillo Island in Quezon, are brought to temporary shelters in Infanta. At right, ferry passengers are stranded in neighboring Real town. —LYN RILLON AND AFP
INFANTA, Quezon—Survivors and families of the passengers of the ferry that sank off the coast of Quezon province on Thursday scrambled to find some source of relief from the tragedy that struck four days before Christmas.
While most reeled from the loss of personal belongings and the trauma, others struggled with questions about what caused MV Mercraft 3 to sink and steal their loved ones from them.
The Mercraft sank nearly 30 years to the day after the ferry, Doña Paz, which was also packed with Christmas holiday passengers, collided with an oil tanker near Mindoro and burst into flames, claiming more than 4,000 lives in the world’s worst maritime peacetime disaster.
Juanito Diaz, acting chief of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said four people were confirmed dead, while 15 others were missing.
At least 249 people, including an Australian tourist and his Filipino wife, were rescued hours after the vessel sank, according to Councilor Janet Balili of Dinahican village in Infanta town.
The ferry capsized in rough waters off Dinahican village in Infanta town an hour after it left the port of Real for Polillo Island at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
Three of the four who died were identified as Francisco Azuela, Marieta Guinto Gusago and Ding Azores. The fourth fatality was a woman.
The bodies were brought to C.M. Recto Hospital, where the staff said one of the two women appeared to be pregnant.
Over 60 survivors were treated in hospitals. Some, with minor injuries, were discharged and 18 remained confined with fever and nausea.
Administrative officer Carmen Peñaverde said the hospital was told that the ferry operator would shoulder all the expenses.
In Dinahican, over 200 survivors were sheltered at the village hall near the port and at an adjacent basketball court where social workers hurried to identify them so they could be reunited with their relatives.
Balili said the Coast Guard, Army, Navy and local authorities launched early on Friday another search, but no survivor or body was found.
The mission was called off around 1 p.m. as strong winds hampered operations.
Many of the ferry passengers headed from the Ungos port in Real town to Polillo Island for the Christmas holiday.
Waiting for word
Families of those missing were in agony, hearing no word about their loved ones.
Confirmed missing were Sunday Tapar, John Mark Mendiola, Rufo Combalicer and Odelon Azul.
Tapar’s mother, Ester Jinayon, 58, rushed from her home in Taytay, Rizal province, after hearing news of the ferry sinking from a relative.
Her son and his wife, Judith, and their 11-month-old son were traveling to Polillo with his uncle Edie to spend Christmas there.
“We traveled together to the Ungos port where I even sent them off,” she said, weeping. “My only Christmas wish now is for my son to come home alive.”
Edie, 50, said the boat was filled with so many passengers that the life vests were not enough for everyone. He didn’t even have one, he said.
When the vessel began to tilt to the side, he recalled thinking, “I need to at least save myself.”
He saw Sunday struggling to save his wife and baby, before his nephew disappeared.
Judith and her baby survived and were brought to a hospital.
Losing a father
Rovelyn Combalicer said she had already accepted the loss of her father, Rufo.
The Dubai-based worker, who had returned to the country to celebrate the holidays in her Polillo hometown, decried the overloaded vessel.
“Right now, I just hope they would find my father’s body, and we can bid him a proper goodbye,” she said.
One survivor, Rene Ebuenga, said passengers panicked when the ferry started to take in water and rushed to one side, causing the vessel to tilt and capsize.
Diaz said Quezon Gov. David Suarez had called on the Coast Guard to strictly implement rules on sea travel and “not give in to the emotional plea of travelers wanting to return home.” —WITH REPORTS FROM DELFIN T. MALLARI JR., THE WIRES