Murder charges over ferry deaths
Police in the Philippines have filed multiple murder charges against the owner and crew of a ferry that capsized shortly after pulling out of port, leaving more than 50 dead.
Rio Tan of Ormoc City police said the charges were filed with the local prosecutor as the 36-ton MB Kim Nirvana was lifted from the water.
Regional coastguard commander Pedro Tinampay said at least 59 people died, while 145 survived, including all 18 crew members.
Capt Tinampay said a marine investigation has begun and it will determine how many people were aboard the vessel.
The ship flipped over off Ormoc City when it was lashed by strong waves after leaving the port en route to one of the Camotes Islands, about 20 miles south.
Capt Tinampay said earlier that the movement of cargo inside the hold might have contributed to the accident. The ferry was carrying heavy construction materials and bags of rice.
Ormoc, a regional economic and transportation hub of about 200,000 people, is in a disaster-prone eastern region that is regularly hit tropical storms and typhoons that blow in from the Pacific.
Mr Tan said murder charges were filed against ferry owner Joge Bung Zarco, boat captain Warren Oliverio and 17 other crew members.
The local prosecutor will review the charges to determine whether there is enough evidence to file charges in court.
Capt Tinampay said some passengers reported that the boat suddenly swerved to the right, possibly causing its cargo, including 80 sacks of cement, to shift to one side.
"It capsized and its right outrigger broke," he said. "The captain suddenly turned the boat to the right, and we have people saying that."
Oliverio denied he made a sudden turn, blaming the strong waves for flipping his boat. "It was the waves," he told ABS-CBN television. He said he could not have made any sudden turn because there was another vessel close to the ferry.
The boat remains belly up on the Ormoc wharf and will be turned upright to allow investigators to get a closer look, Capt Tinampay said.
Lawrence Drake, a retired US firefighter who was among the survivors, said the crew members, especially the captain, did all they could to save the passengers.
"It's wrong. It's wrong. I feel bad," he said by phone from Ormoc.
Mr Drake said Oliverio stripped down to his underpants, jumped into the water to grab people drifting away, and then put them on one of the outriggers to cling to while waiting for rescue boats.
He also disputed accounts that the captain abruptly turned the boat, causing it to capsize.
"That is 100% incorrect. I was 10ft from the captain," he said, recounting that he was in the front seat of the boat at the time.
Mr Drake said the water was rough, with waves "flying over my head" as he revived a woman with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, one of two people the former New York state firefighter said he helped save that day.
He was travelling with his Filipino wife and her mother, who both survived, to Camotes, where he lives.