Owner of Sunken Boat Ordered to Explain Why It Sailed in Storm
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino said Thursday she may close a company whose ship sank in Typhoon Ruby with hundreds of passengers if it cannot adequately explain why it allowed the the vessel to sail in bad weather.
Mrs. Aquino told reporters she ordered the government’s Department of Transportation to investigate the disaster, which left hundreds missing and feared dead. She threatened action if the inquiry finds the company negligent.
″If it is necessary to suspend operations of Sulpicio Lines, then I would do so,″ she said.
Sulpicio Lines owns the 2,855-ton Dona Marilyn, which sank Monday in the Visayan Sea about 300 miles southeast of Manila at the height of the typhoon.
Confusion persisted Thursday over how many people were rescued.
The owner said at least 197 people were rescued, mostly from small nearby islands. A government spokeswoman reported 223 survivors, but the coast guard in Cebu said their records showed 186 survivors.
At least 33 bodies have been recovered.
In December, another company ship was involved in one of the world’s worst peacetime shipping disasters when it collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island. Official reports put the death toll at about 1,700, but most estimates placed the actual figure at more than 3,000. Only 28 people survived.
Philip Tuazon, administrator of the government’s Maritime Industry Authority, said Sulpicio was ordered to appear at a hearing on Wednesday ″to explain why we should not suspend them.″
Jose Baldicanas, the government’s Transportation undersecretary, said the ship was given a permit to sail because the weather was clear when it left Manila for Tacloban, 350 miles to the southeast, on Sunday.
He added, ″When the permit was given to the ship, it meant the ship captain should decide what route to take to evade the typhoon.″
Capt. Eliodoro Salgado was not among the confirmed survivors, officials said.
Conflicting reports also circulated Thursday on how many people were on the vessel when it went down in heavy seas.
Sulpicio officials say at least 521 passengers and crew were aboard. However, the ship’s manifest showed only 421 passengers and a crew of 60. The coast guard said it counted only 379 passengers when the ship sailed from Manila.
The Red Cross and government agencies said at least 150 other people were killed on land during Typhoon Ruby. The storm slammed into the farming heartland of central Luzon island before entering the South China Sea on Tuesday.
The government estimated the storm caused up to $45 million in damage to crops and $7.5 million in damage to roads, bridges and public buildings.