Photographers' Blog

The Sibuyen ferry disaster

When I heard that a ferry with 865 passengers onboard had sunk in the waters off Sibuyen Island in the central Philippines during Typhoon Fengshen, I set about trying to get there. My best bet was to hitch a ride on a Philippine Airforce helicopter.

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So at 05:30 I was at a Manila airforce base, hoping to accompany the first flight of the search and rescue operation. All I had were the clothes on my back, a laptop, a satellite phone and one camera body.

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My other camera body had been also been casualty of Typhoon Fengshen when it hit Manila but I was concerned that they would bump me off the flight if I carried too much.

At 07:00, I was still on the ground but with no sign of the opposition I worried that maybe they had hired their own aircraft and were already ahead of me. However, shortly afterwards we were on our way to Sibuyan Island.

After an hour and a half of flying, we caughtour first sight of the capsized ferry, the MV Princess of the Stars. I immediately began shooting pictures, but when I had done I was struck by the realisation  that the ship was still full of the bodies of the victims.

Be prepared!

“ALWAYS get to the scene as soon as possible”, is a mantra for the Tokyo picture team. It is advice which features prominently in the pocket-sized guide to emergency coverage procedures produced by our boss Michael Caronna - a guide which has also become indispensible in everyday coverage too. 

Japan is one of the world’s most seismically active areas and the Tokyo Pictures team’s emergency earthquake coverage plan is well-developed and paid off recently when we covered a powerful earthquake in Northern Japan. 

The guide suggests a very clear and concise principle: “Have equipment and photographers in place at all times and just go when it happens.”

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