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87 Die As Philippine Boat Capsizes

April 14, 2000

JOLO, Philippines (AP) _ No life vests were available for scores of illegal passengers on an overloaded Philippine boat that capsized, killing at least 87 people, survivors said today.

Dozens of other passengers remained missing more than a day after the wooden-hulled Annahada capsized shortly after leaving Jolo, the capital of remote Sulu province, en route to Malaysia’s Sabah state.

Navy ships and fishermen recovered or spotted 31 more bodies this morning, bringing the confirmed death toll to at least 87, Sulu provincial police chief Candido Casimiro said.

Somber families searched through the lined-up bodies at Jolo’s pier looking for relatives. Two women began weeping after identifying one victim.

The cargo vessel was not authorized to carry passengers but had picked up about 150 to 200 people at sea from small boats after leaving Jolo on Wednesday night, officials said.

Some of the passengers apparently planned to enter Malaysia illegally. There were no immediate reports of whether foreigners were on board.

Bibing Limpisan, a survivor being treated at a hospital in Jolo, said the passengers were crowded on one side of the boat and a cargo of fuel in barrels was on other side.

The boat capsized less than an hour after it left Jolo, she said.

Aida Amil, another survivor, said only she and a sister survived out of her family of eight.

Many of the passengers, she said, were crowded under a tarp on the deck for protection from rain. When the boat capsized, they were unable to cut through the tarp and were trapped under it.

``People were shouting help, help,″ she said. Life vests were not available and the crew gave no warning, she said.

About 100 fishermen helped the navy and coast guard search for missing passengers, but were hampered by rain and strong undersea currents, said Abdusakur Tan, governor of Sulu province, at the Philippines’ southern tip.

So far, 79 people had been rescued, including 16 who were hospitalized, deputy coast guard commander Reuben Lista said.

The capsized boat was towed back to Jolo, where it lay today on its side near a pier, a hole in its hull, as children played on top of it.

Lista said the coast guard was largely powerless to stop the practice of cargo boats illegally taking on passengers at sea.

``The problem is that the loading is at night and we don’t have a vessel in Jolo to monitor them,″ Lista said.

Ferries are the main form of transportation between the Philippines’ more than 7,000 islands, and overcrowding and accidents are common. In December, an overloaded ferry sank in the central Philippines, killing at least 51 people. More than 770 others were rescued.

In the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster, the Philippine ferry Dona Paz collided with a tanker on Dec. 20, 1987, killing 4,341.