this post has been updated. see update here

Thirteen people died while 572 others were rescued after a passenger vessel collided with a cargo ship and sank in waters off Talisay, Cebu, Friday night, a Coast Guard official said.

Cmdr. Winiel Azcuna, Coast Guard Station Cebu commander, gave the figures as Coast Guard ships, Navy vessels, and other seacraft continued to scour the seas for survivors Saturday morning.

“Maximum number of assets ng Philippine Navy at Philippine Coast Guard ang ating dineploy po doon sa area and kasama din natin ‘yung mga local government units, nagpadala sila ng mga bangka para mag-rescue ng mga pasahero nung lumubog na barko,” Azcuna said in a phone interview 4 a.m.

A total of 321 people are still “missing or unaccounted for,” Lt. Jim Alagao, public affairs officer of the Armed Forces’ Central Command (Centcom), said in a text message.

Navy and Coast Guard divers were deployed Saturday morning to the collision site, which is about 600 yards (0.54 kilometers) West of Lawis Ledge and 45 fathoms (82.3 meters) deep, Alagao added.

The missing persons, fatalities, and survivors were all occupants of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas, which sank after colliding with the M/V Sulpicio Express-7 around 9 p.m. Friday near Lawis Ledge, Azcuna said.

The St. Thomas Aquinas, owned by 2GO Group Inc., started taking in water right after the collision and was already sinking two hours later, Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, Centcom chief, said.

“‘Yung barko ay nag-take in ng water and is starting to [sink], palubog na… pumapasok na ‘yung water sa hull niya,” Deveraturda said when reached by phone 11 p.m.

In a statement posted on its website, 2GO said the St. Thomas Aquinas’ manifest listed 723 passengers and 118 crew, or a total of 841 people, as well as 104 equivalent 20-footer container units.

Tallying the number of fatalities, survivors, and missing persons provided by authorities would show that there were 906 people on the vessel, 65 more than those in the manifest.

But 2GO said the ship has an authorized capacity of 1,010 passengers and crew, and 160 units of 20-footer containers.

Earlier, Deveraturda said initial reports from the ground indicate that the St. Thomas Aquinas only had 690 passengers.

Minda Morante, Office of Civil Defense-7 director, said she received a “raw infomation” that only more than 400 passengers were listed when the St. Thomas Aquinas left Nasipit Port in Agusan del Norte for Cebu.

“‘Yun ang isa sa mga sinusubukan namng i-confirm dito… ‘Yung ganyan, although raw information, kasi minsan merong mga nakaakyat na sa barko, doon na lang kumukuha ng ticket, hindi mo talaga ma-account yan,” Morante said.

According to 2GO, the St. Thomas Aquinas came from Surigao and Nasipit Port, and headed to Cebu for a 10 p.m. stopover before proceeding to Manila.

The Sulpicio Express-7, on the other hand, had just left Cebu Pier for Davao, Morante said.

“Papasok na siya (M/V St. Thomas Aquinas) sa Cebu City Port, tapos yung isa namang barko from the Cebu City Port, palabas naman, nagpang-abot sila, ganoon ang nangyari,” she said.

Morante said she alerted all hospitals in Talisay and nearby towns upon learning about the mishap because of an expected influx of patients.

“Nag-alerto tayo ng mga ospital na silang lahat ay to recieve and receive, kasi lahat di ‘yun kakayanin ng Talisay District Hospital,” she said.

“Immediately after the collision, the crew of the M/V St. Thomas distributed life jackets to the passengers and carried out emergency abandon-ship procedures. At the same time, the ship’s officers sent a distress signal to the nearest Philippine Coast Guard Station to alert them for immediate rescue operations,” 2GO said for its part.

An emergency operations center was also activated at port to give assistance, including meal packs and dry clothes, to survivors, it said.

“Those needing medical attention have been attended to by onsite medical personnel while others have already been brought to nearby hospitals. The rest of the passengers have been offered accommodations at a nearby hotel,” the company added. (John Roson)

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this post has been updated. see update here