, MANILA, Philippines, Jul 4 – Philippine police have filed murder charges against the owner and crew of a passenger ferry that capsized and left 56 dead, an official said Saturday.
The charges were filed late on Friday in the central city of Ormoc over the sinking of the Kim Nirvana ship, according to regional police head Chief Superintendent Asher Dolina.
An initial police investigation and interviews with survivors showed the vessel abruptly turned in waters off the central port of Ormoc on Thursday, causing it to capsize, Dolina told AFP.
“They were not careful, showing there was an intent to kill. They were reckless on purpose,” Dolina said.
A total of nineteen people were charged, including ship operator Joge Bong Zarco, captain Warren Oliviero, and 17 crew members, according to Dolina.
Under Philippine law, murder is punishable by up to 40 years imprisonment.
The police investigation is separate from a coast guard inquiry, which will primarily determine the cause of the mishap.
However, the coast guard may also recommend criminal and administrative charges. READ: At least 36 dead after Philippine ferry capsizes: official.
“We filed the charges as soon as we could because we don’t want the suspects to leave the country,” Dolina said.
Fifty-six people were confirmed dead from the sinking, Ormoc city councillor Godiardo Ebcas told AFP.
Overloading of cargo and passengers might have been to blame for the disaster, according to Ebcas, who helped oversee rescue operations.
Survivors reported seeing up to 150 sacks of cement and more of rice and fertiliser in the ship’s cargo area before it capsized in relatively calm seas, he said.
Bloated bodies spilled out of the Kim Nirvana’s wooden hull as a crane lifted it from the water and placed it on Ormoc port, Ebcas added.