As the death toll in the recent ferry disaster in the Philippines climbs over 50, authorities filed murder charges against the Filipino ferry's crew and owner, BBC News reported Saturday. Authorities have charged 19 people in connection with the disaster, which occurred Thursday off the coast of Ormoc City, located on the island of Leyte. At least 59 people have been confirmed dead in the Philippines ferry disaster, which authorities now believe may have been caused by human error and negligence.
According to the Agence France-Presse, authorities filed murder charges against the ferry's owner, Joge Bong Zarco, and the captain, Warren Oliviero. The remaining 17 crew members, all of whom survived, are also being charged with murder. The news agency reported that all 19 suspects are currently in police custody.
"We filed the charges as soon as we could because we don't want the suspects to leave the country," local police chief Asher Dolina said to the AFP. He added that surviving passengers told authorities the ferry turned sharply right before it capsized, leading officials to believe that the incident was more than just rough waters.
There are also conflicting reports about how many passengers the ferry was carrying at the time of its journey. The Philippine Coast Guard said in an earlier statement that the vessel had 173 passengers and 14 crew members on board, for a total of 187 people. Yet the coast guard also said at least 140 people survived the disaster; with 59 bodies already pulled from the water, that means the ferry was carrying at least 199 passengers and crew when it capsized.
Coast Guard spokesman Pedro Tinampay added to the Wall Street Journal on Saturday that 145 passengers and crew have survived, leaving over 200 people accounted for. Now, authorities suspect the ferry may have been loaded beyond capacity.
This wouldn't be the first time a ferry's captain and crew members receive murder charges for a maritime disaster. In April, the captain of the South Korean ferry Sewol, which capsized in April 2014 in an incident that killed more than 300 people, was found guilty of murder by an appellate court. The captain, Lee Joon-seok, was sentenced to life in prison for the disaster. Most of those killed in the disaster were high school students on a field trip.
The appellate court's ruling overturned a previous ruling that acquitted Lee of murder. The captain was initially found guilty of gross negligence in November 2014, and received a 36-year sentence. Lee had been accused of failing to properly evacuate his passengers, and a video later surfaced online showing the captain leaving the capsizing ferry while hundreds still remained onboard.
More than a dozen other crew members were charged in the 2014 ferry disaster. However, they all received less harsher sentences than Lee.
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