At least 31 people are confirmed to have died after two passenger vessels sank in the central Philippines on Saturday, August 3.
The Philippine Coast Guard said that a wooden-hulled motorised vessel known locally as a banca was transporting 47 passengers and crew along the two-kilometre stretch between the island provinces of Guimaras and Iloilo when it capsized and sank at around 12:30 local time.
Responders from the coast guard, the Philippine Red Cross, and other agencies that had arrived soon afterward were in the process of conducting search and rescue (SAR) operations when a second banca carrying 39 passengers and crew capsized and sank in the same area.
Survivors were picked up out of the water as SAR operations continued under difficult weather conditions well into the night.
Local authorities initially confirmed a total of 11 fatalities on Saturday evening. However, the death toll reached 31 on Sunday as rescuers recovered more bodies in and around the area where the sinkings occurred.
The coast guard said that search efforts continue for three people who remain unaccounted for.
A third banca that had no passengers on board and that was sailing along the same route on Saturday afternoon also sank, though all its occupants were later rescued.
The Iloilo City government has since ordered the temporary suspension of banca services between the two islands as authorities launch an investigation into the incidents.
The sinkings were reportedly caused by strong winds and rough waves brought about by the heavy monsoon rains typical in the country during this time of year.
A preliminary investigation conducted by the coast guard revealed the first two bancas that sank had a total of 12 passengers who were not listed on the vessels’ manifests.
The coast guard has come under some criticism for allowing the ill-fated vessels to sail through the strait despite the poor weather.
A coast guard official, however, clarified that no storm or gale warnings in the region were announced by the local weather bureau, hence the decision to allow the vessels to operate.
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