INTERPOL to use advanced DNA analysis to identify up to 800 victims of Philippines ferry accident, appeals for extra facilities

1 July 2008

MANILA, Philippines – Following its deployment of an Incident response team (IRT) to the Philippines to help assess the requirements for the recovery and identification of the victims of the 21 June ferry disaster, INTERPOL is to play a central role in supporting and co-ordinating the Philippines' Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) efforts for the almost 800 victims who perished when their ship capsized during Typhoon Frank.

The IRT team, which arrived in Cebu on 29 June at the Philippines government’s request, includes DNA and DVI experts and a representative from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). The team is to work directly under the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation's ongoing disaster victim identification effort in Cebu.

INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble, who is in the Philippines to meet with senior law enforcement and government officials and the INTERPOL team on the ground to ensure the fullest possible co-operation, praised the Philippine government for recognizing that the scale of the disaster was such that it would be impossible for it to deal with it alone.

He said that just as with the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia – where INTERPOL played a central DVI role – there were major structural challenges linked to the need for refrigerated containers, mobile forensic labs or work facilities and a Victim Identification Information Center.

"INTERPOL desperately needs refrigerated containers for the bodies to be preserved with dignity and mobile forensic labs for the work to be done efficiently and swiftly. We and our member countries will find the money for the vital, costly DNA examinations, and as part of these efforts it would be greatly appreciated and helpful if Sulpicio Lines, the owners of the ferry which sank, or any good Samaritan, provided us with the necessary work environment and also donated several refrigerated containers and mobile forensic labs,” he said.

“This would significantly help INTERPOL’s efforts to use state-of-the art DNA analysis so that the victim identification process can occur in the most dignified and effective manner possible and allow grieving families to be re-united with their loved ones as soon as possible.”

“There is only one goal – to ensure that the DVI teams and police are able to work under the conditions that will assist the accurate and efficient identification of the many victims of this tragedy, and we will draw on all of our resources to achieve that goal,” he added.

Sulpicio Lines, the shipping company that owns the MV Princess of the Stars ferry that sank off Sibuyan Island, has stated its readiness to offer financial assistance to the families of the victims.

The immediate need is for temporary mortuary sites equipped to conduct post mortem examinations in accordance with international best practices and protocols established by INTERPOL’s DVI guidelines.

As part of these guidelines, forensic experts conduct detailed examinations of victims, recording a wide range of identifying physical characteristics including height, fingerprints, tattoos, surgical implants, dental x-rays etc. All information is entered into PlassData, a computer system based on INTERPOL’s DVI forms, which assists the comparison of post mortem or PM data against ante mortem or AM data, as part of the identification process. INTERPOL is to use PlassData as part of its DVI efforts in the Philippines.