Dona Paz is considered the worst maritime disaster ever in terms of lives lost. The 23-year old ferry had already had one serious accident, but after a reconstruction it was declared fully safe.
On 20 December 1987, she was on her way to Manila, when she collided with Vector, a motor tanker, carrying 8,800 barrels of petroleum products. The collision ignited a fire, from which it was virtually impossible to escape.
Only 21 persons from Dona Paz survived by diving under the sea of flames surrounding the two ships.
The extent of the accident was increased by the sloppiness of the crew. Although Dona Paz was licensed to carry only 1,518 passengers, subsequent interviews have revealed that the total number of casualties was 4,375. Many of the victims were families on their way home for Christmas holiday.
Officials from the maritime authorities said that the number of passengers was impossible to control. Survivors testimonies have revealed that the crew of the ship was drinking beers and watching videotapes prior to the accident.
The fire was so intense, that it annihilated the two ships. Only 270 bodies washed ashore, and the US Air Force later said: It was as if it never happened.
That seemed to be the conclusion by the Philippine government as well. After the accident, an investigation was commenced, which very quickly faded away. Very few survivors and relatives went to court, because they had little faith in the legal system.
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Links and references:
A German web page about the accident:
The accident in brief: