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FERNANDO - Difficulties in removing bodies from the ferry that capsized last weekend have forced divers to photograph the victims inside the vessel so anguished relatives can identify them, Philippine officials said yesterday.
Weighted belts have been sent to the site to help lower bodies that have floated to the top of the submerged compartments on the seven-story ferry, Coast Guard Commodore Luis Tuason said. Divers are having trouble pulling the bloated bodies through narrow, debris-filled corridors to exit the ferry.
It remains unclear how many of the 850-plus passengers and crew were trapped when the 23824ton Princess of the Stars suddenly listed and went belly up in a half-hour or less during a powerful typhoon on Saturday, leaving just the tip of the bow jutting from the water.
Only 56 survivors have been found, while 124 bodies have been recovered after washing ashore or spotted floating in the sea, some in life jackets, Coast Guard Commander Danilo Avila said. The aftermath of Typhoon Fengshen kept rescue workers away until calm conditions on Tuesday allowed divers to slither inside the ferry for the first time.
More than 100 divers, including eight US military frogmen, were at the site, some working through the night on Wednesday in the hope that some passengers could have found an air pocket and survived.
Tuason said divers were taking photos of the bodies from several angles inside small air pockets so relatives could help in the identification process.
Relatives have questioned why the ship was allowed to leave Manila late on Friday for a 20-hour trip to Cebu with a typhoon approaching.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered a thorough probe and said she hoped to find ways to avoid similar accidents in the future.
Sulpicio Lines said the ferry sailed with Coast Guard approval. - Sapa-AP