December 20

This Day in History

Disaster

Dec 20, 1987:

Ferry collides with oil tanker near Manila

A passenger ferry collides with an oil tanker near Manila in the Philippines on this day in 1987, leaving 4,000 people dead. The ferry, the Dona Paz, was severely overcrowded, carrying more than twice its stated capacity, and nearly everyone on board was killed.

Sulpicio Lines owned the 2,215-ton Dona Paz, which was supposed to carry 1,400 passengers among the many islands of the Philippines. On December 20, it was going from Tacloban on Leyte Island to Manila. There was much demand due to the Christmas holidays and the company allowed approximately 4,000 people to board. Passengers shared cots and mats were laid out in the corridors as night fell during the 375-mile journey.

By 10 p.m., many of the ship's officers were drinking and watching television while an apprentice officer piloted the ship through the busy Tablas Strait, 110 miles south of Manila. Also coming through the strait was the 629-ton tanker Victor, carrying 8,000 barrels of oil to Masbate Island. The two ships collided, for reasons still unknown, and a huge explosion resulted. Both ships sank quickly and although the Don Eusebio arrived on the scene shortly to help, it could only circle the fiery area in vain looking for survivors.

Only 24 survivors were found, half of whom were crew members from the Victor. For the next week, burned or drowned bodies washed ashore up and down Manila Island. President Corazon Aquino called it a "tragedy of harrowing proportions." The precise number of people on board the Dona Paz is not known, but the best estimate puts the death toll near 4,000. This makes it twice as deadly as the Titanic disaster and the worst maritime tragedy in history.

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