- Hundreds missing in Philippine ferry disaster
- Japanese cops probe blast at festival site
- Pakistan cops shoot gunman in standoff
CEBU, Philippines - Philippine rescuers searched Saturday for more than 200 people missing after a ferry collided with a cargo ship in thick darkness and sank almost instantly, with 26 already confirmed dead.
The St Thomas Aquinas ferry was carrying 870 passengers and crew when the accident occurred late on Friday night in calm waters near the port of Cebu, the Philippines' second biggest city, authorities said.
Coastguard and military vessels, as well as local fishermen on their own small boats hauled more than 600 people out of the water alive.
But by late Saturday morning, 215 people were still unaccounted for and 26 bodies had been retrieved, according to the coastguard, which warned the death toll would inevitably rise.
"The captain managed to declare abandon ship and they distributed life jackets but, because of the speed by which it went down, there is a big chance that there are people trapped inside."
One survivor, Maribel Manalo, 23, recounted to her brother the horror of suddenly being plunged into the cold water in darkness, and emerging from the chaos without her mother.
"She said there was a banging noise then the boat suddenly started sinking," the brother, Arvin Manalo, told AFP.
"They quickly strapped on life jackets and then jumped into the dark sea. She said they felt like they were pulled under. My sister said she pushed our mother up, but they got separated.
"My sister was rescued. My sister knows how to swim, but my mother does not."
He said their mother, 56, remained missing.
Fifty-eight babies were among the passengers on board the ferry, according to the coastguard, and it was unclear how many of them survived.
Navy divers on a speed boat scoured the sea on Saturday morning amid orange life rafts that had already been mostly emptied, according to an AFP photographer on the scene.
Tuason said helicopters had also been deployed and specialist divers sent to search through the sunken vessel.
Local fisherman Mario Chavez told AFP he was one of the first people to reach passengers after the ferry sank in the 82-metre-deep (270-feet) channel.
"I plucked out 10 people from the sea last night. It was pitch black and I only had a small flashlight. They were bobbing in the water and screaming for help," he said.
"They told me there were many people still aboard when the ferry sank... they told me many were sleeping. There were screams, but I could not get to all of them. It was difficult to find them. I felt really bad."
Rachel Capuno, a security officer for the ferry's owners, told Cebu radio station DYSS the vessel was sailing into port when it collided with the cargo ship.
"The impact was very strong," she said.
Tuason said it appeared one of the vessels had violated rules on which lanes they should use when travelling in and out of the port.
He said the captain of the Thomas Aquinas was among those rescued, and was being questioned.
The Thomas Aquinas was a "roll-on, roll-off" ferry, which allows vehicles to be driven aboard and is commonly used in the Philippines.
Ferries are one of the main modes of transport across the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, particularly for the millions of people too poor to fly.
But sea accidents are common, with poor safety standards, lax enforcement and overloading typically to blame.
The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near the capital, Manila, in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.
In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead. - AFP
TOKYO: Japanese police are investigating the cause of an explosion at a fireworks festival which left at least 59 people injured including some with serious burns when it ripped through the crowded site.
Witnesses recounted seeing victims, including children, screaming as they rolled on the ground to try to put out the flames, while the thousands who had gathered for the Thursday night festival fled in panic.
The explosion is believed to have erupted at one of hundreds of snack counters lining a nearby riverbank at the festival, which is held annually outside the ancient capital of Kyoto and attracts over 100,000 people.
Video footage showed the stalls, which had been selling drinks and food, going up in flames and sending smoke into the night sky, before a larger blast erupted.
Early accounts said it was caused by a gas cylinder, but Jiji Press news agency said police suspect the fire may have started when a vendor added gasoline to a running power generator.
Koichi Tanimura, head of the local chamber of commerce which organised the festival, apologised at a press conference yesterday.
"I believe the vendor should be held responsible, but we also have a moral responsibility," he said. "I would like to apologise to those who were injured." — AFP
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police snipers shot and seriously wounded a gunman who was tackled live on television by a politician during a dramatic standoff close to Islamabad's high-security political quarter.
The man, who was with his wife and children as he issued demands for the imposition of Islamic law, was said by doctors to be fighting for his life after the five-hour incident which shut down part of the city late on Thursday.
Identified by Pakistani media as Mohammad Sikandar, the man touted two semi-automatic guns as he smoked cigarettes while giving interviews to TV stations over his mobile phone.
"Muslims are being subjected to cruelties everywhere in the world," Sikandar, wearing black, told Dunya News as his children sat in the back of the Toyota Corolla and his wife stood calmly nearby. At one point she handed a note to a plain-clothed police negotiator.
The standoff began around 5.30pm when police flagged down the car for a traffic violation in the central Jinnah Avenue neighbourhood – less than 1km from the presidency and parliament buildings.
Sikandar then started firing into the air, forcing markets and shops in the area to close. Crowds of onlookers gathered at a distance, as TV anchors broadcasting the incident live on air queried how police checkpoints had failed to stop an armed man from driving into the sensitive area.
The standoff ended at 11pm after Zamurd Khan, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party who was acting as a negotiator, jumped on the gunman and tried to disarm him.
Sikandar broke free and fired at Khan, who was not injured. Police and paramilitary commandos then shot the gunman as he tried to flee, hauling him away as blood poured from his wounds. The children were unharmed.
Television footage showed the young boy trying to rush over to his father after he was shot, but Khan held him back.
"Condition of Sikandar is critical and doctors are trying to save his life," doctor Wasim Khawaja, a spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in central Islamabad, said.
"He received two bullets, one in the upper body and one in the left leg," he said.
"The woman was hit in her right leg but she is out of danger."
Islamabad police officials said Sikandar appeared to have mental health problems. His demands included enforcement of Syariah law in Pakistan, the government's resignation, and the release of a son apparently jailed in Dubai. — AFP
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