MANILA, June 25 (Xinhua) — Philippine rescuers have recovered nearly 20 bodies and spotted 50 more in between islands of the central Philippines where a passenger ferry with 862 people on board capsized four days ago, local media reported Wednesday.
Philippine Navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo told national Tv network GMA News that the big group of almost 50 bodies was found some 17 nautical miles west of Burias island of Masbate province.
Philippine coast guard divers and U.S. military personnel look at a floating body after it was retrieved during search and rescue operations on the sunken ferry M/V Princess of the Stars at Sibuyan island, central Philippines June 25, 2008. Divers scouted for bodies in first-class cabins on the capsized ferry in the Philippines on Wednesday looking for more than 700 people still missing in the disaster. Hundreds of passengers were feared trapped inside the Princess of the Stars when it ran aground and flipped over in waves as big as houses off the central island of Sibuyan during Typhoon Fengshen on Saturday.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
But he said the Navy has yet to recover all the bodies and the authority needs to verify whether the dead were among the more than 700 missing passengers and crew on the M/V Princess of the Stars.
On Wednesday, the rescue team confirmed to have retrieved around 20 bodies, including 13 on the shores of San Pascual town of Masbate. A local mayor said he decided to bury another 19 bodies, found on Tuesday, in a shallow grave to avoid disease outbreak.
The local official said pictures of the remains, including identifying marks, were taken.
But Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, joined rank with relatives of the missing passengers to appeal local officials not to bury the bodies. Distraught relatives, though accepted the death of their loved ones, have hoped that they could at least give the dead a decent burial.
“The corpses will not cause any outbreak of disease. They only need to be properly covered and stored before rescue team come to retrieve them,” Gordon told local television.
Rescuers appealed for more body bags and chemicals to slow down decomposition and arrest the foul smell from the remains as more corpses are found at coastlines in several provinces surrounding the Sibuyan island where the ferry sank.
Arevalo said some of the retrieved bodies are covered with lifejackets, and there may be foreigners among the dead, judging on the skin color.
Gordon said judging upon past experience it is possible that foreigners are killed in a major domestic calamity, but it needs further verification.
Local reports once indicated there are Japanese on board but source with the Japanese embassy in Manila said they did not find names of Japanese nationals on the passenger list provided by the ship company.
On its way from Manila to Cebu, the 23,800-ton M/V Princess of the Stars sank off the Philippines’ central province of Romblon at the height of Typhoon Fengshen which lashed the archipelago from east to west over the weekend.
There were 862 people on board as the passenger ship, including751 manifested passengers and 111 crew members. By Wednesday, rescuers are only able to find 48 survivors.