Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bodies Removed From Philippine Ferry

Levy Samuele remains hopeful he will find the remains of his cousin, Roy Padua, and his 3-year-old niece. Padua and his daughter were among around 500 people still unaccounted for when the MV Princess of the Stars capsized off Sibuyan in the midst of a raging typhoon on June 21. “We understand that the bodies are not whole anymore, but any portion and a positive identification would make it easier for us,” said Samuele, who arrived here on Sunday at the resumption of retrieval operations for those feared entombed in the vessel. So far, 23 bodies have been recovered, but divers reported that there were not a lot of cadavers in the chambers they had seen so far, said Rodrigo Bella, project manager of the salvor Harbor Star contracted by the ferry owner Sulpicio Lines for the retrieval. Most of the passengers were reported to be on Deck B and Deck C.“As of what we saw, there are not more than 100 bodies in Deck C,” Bella said in a telephone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “We are not expecting to see 500 bodies ... We would be lucky if we can get half of that,” he said. Moreover, divers who surveyed the vessel a few days ago reported that the bodies in the upper Deck B were fewer than what they initially presumed, Bella said. He said that the divers found “clusters” of cadavers but he doubted that they would add up to 500. The MV Princess of the Stars carried 864 people when it left Manila for Cebu. Only 56 people survived the tragedy. Around 350 bodies had earlier been recovered but the rest remained unaccounted for. Retrieval operations were suspended in July and resumed on Sunday after a toxic cargo of endosulfan and other chemicals were removed.Transport Undersecretary Elena Bautista, chief of Task Force Princess of the Stars, also said divers could not guarantee that all the people unaccounted for were trapped inside the ship. “If there were 500 people inside, then the divers should have seen plenty of bodies. But they thoroughly searched one deck and they only saw a few bodies,” she said. Bella and Bautista said it was likely that some of those who were missing jumped from the ship before giant waves caused by Typhoon “Frank” (international codename: Fengshen) capsized the ferry. Since the retrieval began, the divers have only reached Deck C. The bodies recovered there were sent to the nearby MV Tacloban Princess, where a team from the National Bureau of Investigation and Interpol were tagging and preparing the bodies for further processing in Cebu City. DNA samples from the corpses and their surviving relatives will be sent to a laboratory in Sarajevo in Bosnia for identification. For the relatives awaiting information about their loved ones, the past four months was an agony.Samuele said he would remain in the island until the Philippine Coast Guard or the shipping firm allows him near the ship or in Tacloban Princess. He said he had been notified by Bautista that divers retrieved a man and a child from the kitchen area on Sunday. “She did not mention if the child was a girl or boy. During my trip here, I felt like I was being pulled and I couldn’t sleep. I am hoping that those were my relatives,” he said. Despite official pronouncements that not all missing persons are inside the ship, the relatives are not losing hope, Samuele said. He and the other surviving relatives do not expect to see their loved ones’ bodies, Samuele said. A limb or any body part that would identify their relatives would be a great relief for them, he added. “They are telling us not to expect too much. But our relatives were not among those who were retrieved before so we believe that they are still inside the ship,” he noted. “We can’t believe anything else.”

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