08/19/2013, 00.00
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Cebu, death toll from ferry disaster jumps to 52. Pope close to victims and their families

70 of the more than 800 people on board the ferry are still missing. Hopes of finding more survivors dwindles with each day. Bad weather hampers rescue operations. At yesterday’s Angelus Pope appeals for solidarity and prayers after a telegram to the Archbishop of Cebu.

Manila (AsiaNews) - At least 52 people are confirmed dead in one of the worst maritime disasters in Cebu, the second most populous and the oldest city of the Philippines.  The disaster involved a ferry with more than 800 people on board and a cargo vessel. The collision between the two vessels occurred about two kilometers from the coast on the evening of 16 August. Rescue teams are still engaged in search operations for other survivors, with about 70 people still missing from the passenger list of the MV Thomas Aquinas. Pope Francis at the Angelus yesterday expressed his condolences and asked for a prayer "for the victims of the disaster [...] and for their families."

The collision occurred off the coast of Talisay, in the port of Cebu in the central Philippines. Difficult weather conditions have hampered the rescue and hopes of finding people alive are dwindling with every passing hour. Bad weather has also hit the capital, Manila, with heavy rains causing landslides and flooding.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) confirms that so far more than 750 people have been rescued from the ferry. The other ship involved, the cargo Sulpicio Express 7, had 36 people on board - all crew members - and did not sink in spite of the collision.

In a statement the "2Go" shipping company owner of the capsized ferry, reports that the company is engaged in the containment of the oil spill, to avoid serious damage to the environment. There were 20 thousand liters of diesel, 120 thousand of crude oil and over 20 thousand liters of motor oil.

Meanwhile, the Filipino Catholic community has gathered around to the victims and their families, to witness the solidarity expressed by Pope Francis. Yesterday, during the Marian prayer, the Pope called for a prayer "for the victims of the ferry disaster in the Philippines and for their families."

Previously, through the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, he had sent a telegram of condolence to the Archbishop of Cebu, Msgr. Jose S. Palma. The Pope expressed his "deep sadness at the tragic loss of life" and assured "his closeness in prayer", commending the victims "to the grace of God."

Accidents at sea are a common occurrence in the Philippine archipelago, because of the many storms, poor maintenance and lack of attention to the most basic safety rules. Among the many registered in the last decades, one of the worst was in 1987 when the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a ship carrying fuel killing more than 4,300 people. It was the worst disaster in the world with the highest number of casualties. In 2008, the MV Princess of the Stars sank, after it was engulfed by a tropical typhoon leaving 800 the dead.


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