Priests visit hospitals, funeral homes after Philippine boat accident

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MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine priest said he and others visited hospitals and funeral homes and celebrated Masses for victims of a deadly boating accident.

A Philippine Coast Guard spokesman confirmed to Catholic News Service July 6 at least 61 people had died after a motorized passenger outrigger turned over as it pulled away from the Port of Ormoc, on the western coast of Leyte province. Authorities say there were 156 survivors, including an American and two Canadians.

Officials say the total number of people accounted for far exceeds the 187 listed on the manifest submitted by the ship's captain. Coast Guard spokesman Pedro Tinampay told CNS they were looking at "excess passengers or overloading" as a possible cause of the accident.

Survivors say barely 10 minutes after the 88-foot vessel - bearing bags of cement and rice as well as passengers - left the port it hit a big wave and turned on its side. Then it flipped over, tossing scores of passengers into the sea.

Father Isagani Petilos, a pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Ormoc, said as soon as he heard about the accident July 2, he went to a funeral home and a hospital.

"There were about 19 bodies at the funeral home," said Father Petilos. "And there were 12 at the Doctor's Hospital of Ormoc. I blessed them all."

Father Petilos told CNS that, in the days that followed, he and other priests went to the dock at the port area and blessed bodies as they were brought to shore by divers. He said at least two infants were among the dead, as well as a 3-year old boy.

Father Petilos said 10 priests celebrated Mass at the port's terminal July 4 to honor the dead and to offer thanks for the rescue and emergency workers.

"After the Mass, since there were no coffins yet, we went to the wharf and threw flowers in the sea as our offering to the dead, as a sign of our mourning and love for them," he said.

The priest said that on July 5, a Coast Guard ship bore some of the dead and their families on choppy waters to Camotes Islands, 24 miles southwest of Ormoc. The 45 white coffins headed to what was supposed to be the destination of the capsized craft, the M-V Kim Nirvana.

The Coast Guard said Philippine police filed murder charges July 3 against the owner and crew.

Tinampay said search-and-rescue operations continued July 6.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015