The skipper of a Philippine ferry which flipped over in a lake in an accident that killed 27 passengers decided to sail despite knowing that his boat was filled beyond capacity, the coast guard chief said Friday.
Forty-three passengers were rescued after the M/B Aya Express capsized in Laguna de Bay on Thursday shortly after leaving Binangonan town southeast of Manila in what should have been a 30-minute cruise to nearby Talim Island, officials said.
Coast guard, police and other government personnel continued to search the lake Friday but said they had no idea whether anyone was still missing because of uncertainties over the number of passengers on the ferry. No more survivors or bodies were found.
Two coast guard inspectors allowed the ferry to sail after being shown a manifest which listed only 22 passengers in addition to the boat’s three-member crew, coast guard chief Admiral Artemio Abu said at a news conference.
The two inspectors were removed from their post and will be investigated, coast guard officials said. They said the skipper and the two other crew members and the boat owner may face criminal complaints.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippines because of frequent storms, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
The Aya Express had a capacity of 42 passengers, the coast guard said.
Under questioning by authorities, the skipper acknowledged that the ferry had exceeded its passenger capacity when it left port, Abu said.
The skipper said only 22 passengers were aboard the ferry at first but the number swelled when more people desperate for a ride arrived. The passengers had been stranded for days after stormy weather forced the suspension of ferry services earlier this week, Abu said.
“On his way back to the boat, he said that he saw far too many people have gone onboard and he could no longer convince them to disembark,” Abu said. “Those who were stranded had insisted on staying onboard.”
Shortly after leaving port, the Aya Express was pummeled by strong winds which caused the passengers to panic and rush to one side of the boat. The vessel tilted and its outrigger broke, causing it to capsize just 150 feet from shore, police and coast guard officials said.
“This is really a tragic event that has to be investigated,” coast guard Rear Adm. Hostillo Arturo Cornelio said Thursday night at a news conference.
Investigators will look into reports that many of the passengers were not wearing life vests as required by safety regulations, Cornelio said.
The boat accident brought the death toll from a week of stormy weather across the main island of Luzon to 40.
In addition to the 27 ferry deaths, Typhoon Doksuri left at least 13 people dead, mostly due to landslides, flooding and toppled trees. Twenty people remained missing, including four coast guard personnel whose boat overturned Wednesday while on a rescue mission in hard-hit Cagayan province.