Philippines authorities honour work of INTERPOL team in aftermath of ferry tragedy

12 août 2008

INTERPOL’s Incident Response Team (IRT) coordinating the Philippines' disaster victim identification efforts for the almost 800 victims drowned during Typhoon Frank have been presented with an official award in recognition of the organization’s efforts.

Team members currently deployed to Cebu City, Philippines, received the award from the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council at a special ceremony attended by senior police, disaster management officials and city authorities on 12 August. The award citation noted the “invaluable services rendered” by INTERPOL in the wake of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars passenger ferry.

“You have contributed greatly in alleviating the sufferings of the Filipino people and uplifted the morale of those in need,” the award citation stated.

Similarly honoured with an award was the Vice Mayor of Cebu City, Michael Rama, for his work in the immediate aftermath of the ferry tragedy.

At the Philippines government’s request INTERPOL deployed an Incident Response Team to Cebu City on 29 June. The Interpol team includes DNA and Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) experts and a representative from the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

So far approximately 1,600 DNA samples from relatives and some 300 DNA samples from victims’ bodies have been shipped to Sarajevo for analysis by specialists at the ICMP, which has well-known expertise in large-scale victim identification. It is expected that the first DNA matches and positive identifications will be announced shortly.

Approximately 300 bodies were initially recovered from the sea after the typhoon and 40 of these have so far been identified using fingerprints, dental records and other traditional methods excluding DNA. At least several hundred more bodies are still trapped in the capsized ferry and a complex salvage operation is underway to refloat the vessel.

Refrigerated containers have been installed at the recovery site where the victims’ remains can be properly stored during the identification process once they have been recovered from the ferry. INTERPOL has also shipped a mobile forensic laboratory to Cebu City for the post mortem examinations.