SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/15 September) – The death toll from the roll-on, roll off ferry from this city that sank off Leyte Saturday evening had reached eight after the Philippine Navy recovered five more bodies on Monday afternoon.
The recovery of the five bodies — apparently those of two adult females, two males and a child – came amid continuing search and rescue operations in the vicinity of Surigao Strait for the missing passengers of the ill-fated M/V Maharlika 2.
A total of 113 survivors were rescued while at least three others remained missing, according to Capt. Joseph Coyme, Deputy District Commander of the Philippine Coast Guard in Northern Mindanao.
But Coyme said more persons could be missing since many people have come asking for the whereabouts of their relatives or family members since Sunday.
Martites Mollanda of Parang, Cantilan, Surigao del Sur came arrived at Lipata Port Sunday to ask about her missing sister-in-law, Arleta Puyales.
Puyales took the ferry along with her other sister-in-law Tita Mesias, a survivor.
Mollanda said Puyales was still missing and her name was not on the list of missing persons at the Command Center at the port.
Jessie Saberon, a 57-year old survivor from San Pedro, Laguna said her husband, Felizardo and granddaughter, Tepani, were both missing. Their names were also not on the list of missing passengers.
Some other survivors and relatives were waiting for word on their in Lipata port.
Coyme said they were still validating the claims of the relatives since it was apparent that some of the passengers were not listed on the manifest of M/V Maharlika 2.
He said the vessel only listed 58 passengers and 22 crew members or a total of 84 people.
He quoted Maharlika 2 skipper Juan Cuyago as saying they counted 116 people on board before giving the order to abandon ship.
Capt. Kieser C. Gatdula of the Philippine Air Force said they already made four rounds of aerial survey on board a chopper but could not see any sign of life.
“We been hovering the area that’s 25 nautical miles but we have just seen scattered life jackets,” he told reporters Monday morning after making the aerial survey.
Boats from the Philippine Navy were also searching the area on Monday.
Maharlika 2 sank around 6 pm Saturday off Pintuyan, Southern Leyte after losing control while heading for Liloan, Southern Leyte.
Johanne Jake Miranda, a diver in Surigao City, said more could have died in the treacherous waters of Surigao Strait had they not contacted foreign vessels nearby.
He and Coast Guard officials went to his own dive shop at Barangay Punta Bilar because his shop has better radio signal.
“We contacted the three foreign vessels and these foreign vessels have rescued a total of 73 individuals. Fifty-four people were rescued by M/V St. Martin, 18 by M/V Lara Venture and one by Ocean King,” he said.
He said the water of Surigao Strait has a constant current of two knots per hour. During the incident the water was rough because of strong winds.
Survivor John Paul Maulliet, 18, from Lianga, Surigao del Sur said he couldn’t thank enough St. Martin for saving them.
Noel M. Torralba, Coast Guard sub-station commander in Lipata Port, said the vessel was not overloaded. Otherwise they would not have allowed it to leave, he added.
Torralba said the ship can carry at least 403 passengers.
Juanito Villano, operations manager of Montenegro Shipping that has two ships plying the Surigao-San Ricardo, Southern Leyte route said they canceled voyages on Saturday due to the weather condition.
M/V Filipinas Dapitan of Cokaliong Shipping Lines left for Cebu on Saturday but returned to the port of Surigao after one hour at sea.
Al Caturla, Port Police Commander of Philippine Ports Authority said the ship has finally rested. It is considered as the oldest ship plying the Surigao City-Liloan, Southern Leyte route, which it had served for 30 years.
“It carried 13 rolling cargoes. It departed at 11:30 in the morning on September 13,” he said.
Caturla had been assisting some survivors at the port area in Lipata.
Some generous individuals in Surigao City provided food for the survivors and emergency responders.
PhilHarbor, the company that owned Marharlika 2, has offered P3,000 as cash assistance to each survivor. It also provided food to all survivors.
But some survivors said they did not receive the amount as their names were not on the manifest.
Each survivor received shirts and pants from the Department of Social Welfare Development of Surigao City. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)