Milestone achieved in INTERPOL and ICMP efforts in DNA-assisted identification of Philippines typhoon disaster victims

18 September 2008

LYON, France – INTERPOL and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) today announced the 122nd victim identification following Typhoon Frank during which an estimated 1,330 people lost their lives, including 820 passengers and crew from the Princess of the Stars ferry.

The Disaster Victim Identification teams in Cebu City, made up of experts from the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ICMP and INTERPOL and its member countries from around the world, announced 34 new identifications today – all made utilizing the most modern DNA-matching techniques at the ICMP.

The current total of 122 DNA-assisted identifications is more than double the target of 10 per week set by the NBI, INTERPOL and ICMP on August 17 when the first DNA-identified victims were returned to their families.

The multi-national identification effort, organized by INTERPOL in tandem with the NBI’s victim recovery process, is one of the most difficult mounted in recent times. The 23,000-ton vessel was also carrying tens of thousands of pounds of commercial insecticide and many bodies still remain trapped inside the wreckage. With fingerprint identification out of the question for most of the victims, and dental records not available, this leaves only DNA as a means of identification, with samples from recovered victims matched to those provided by the missing passengers’ relatives.

“To have reached 100 DNA-assisted identifications is a significant milestone in terms of forensic achievements. More importantly it means that families who lost loved ones now have the opportunity to finally lay them to rest,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

“INTERPOL has provided its full support in this effort from the beginning, and we will remain focused in our commitment to ensure the accurate and dignified identification of those who perished in this tragedy,” added Mr Noble.

ICMP Director General Kathryne Bomberger said, “Through our identification efforts, including the use of DNA analysis, ICMP is strongly committed to bringing a sense of closure to all those families who lost loved ones in this tragic event. We will continue to work closely with INTERPOL and the Government of the Philippines in handling this difficult process.”

NBI Director Nestor M Mantaring said working closely with INTERPOL and the ICMP has been critical to the ongoing process.

“Almost three months have passed since our country was struck by one of the worst typhoons in memory, with ‘Frank’ causing the sinking of the Princess of the Stars with hundreds of passengers and crew on board.  The NBI, through its Disaster Victim Identification team, was tasked to identify the victims of this tragedy,” said Director Mantaring. “With help from the INTERPOL, and the ICMP, we have reached the 100th DNA-matched result which led to the identification and release of the bodies to their respective families.  We are committed to doing this until the last possible victim is identified and returned to their family,” he concluded.

The identification work is painstaking and slow to ensure all identifications are accurate and no errors are made. “It is going to take some time to complete this most difficult task,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Noble. “But we are committed to doing all in our power to identify all of the victims of this tragedy where we have received sufficient identifying information. That is our goal.”