MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine court has ordered the owners of a passenger ferry that capsized as it sailed into a typhoon seven years ago to pay about 242 million pesos ($5.47 million) to the families of dozens of passengers who perished.
The Manila Regional Trial Court ruling made public Wednesday found Sulpicio Lines Inc., which operated the MV Princess of the Stars, negligent for sailing the vessel through the path of the storm on its way to Cebu City.
The ferry capsized as it was battered by huge waves and fierce winds on June 21, 2008, off the central Philippine island of Sibuyan. Only 56 of around 900 passengers and crew survived.
Rescuers found the 23,824-ton ferry belly up with more than half of its keel above the water.
"To me, justice prevailed because the court has declared that (the company) failed to exercise extraordinary diligence," said Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney's Office, which represented the plaintiffs in the civil suit. "This is a court battle and we won."
Heirs of 69 people who died and two who survived filed the civil damage claims at the Manila court, but the court recognized only 64, including the two survivors. Acosta said she will ask the court to reconsider that decision and grant recognition to all of the claimants. A similar suit has been filed in Cebu by families of more than 60 other passengers, Acosta said.
She said the court reached its decision on Sept. 18 and that she and the claimants received notice of the ruling by mail only on Wednesday.
The court said the ship's captain, who is among the missing, "was not unaware of the typhoon signals" that were raised along both its regular and alternate routes. The ship owners gave "no specific instruction" for the ferry to take shelter, it added.
Acosta said the company can appeal the court's decision.
She said about 500 bodies have been recovered. The plaintiffs included three siblings who lost both their parents and their five other siblings, she said.
Sulpicio, now named Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., also owned the Dona Paz, which sank in December 1987, killing 4,340 people, after colliding with a fuel tanker in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.