Tuesday 12 December 2017

At least six dead and 31 missing after tourist boat sinks in Colombian reservoir

A tourist ferry sinks in the Guatape reservoir in Colombia in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Juan Quiroz/via REUTERS.
A tourist ferry sinks in the Guatape reservoir in Colombia in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Juan Quiroz/via REUTERS.
People on a boat rescue passengers of a sinking tourist ferry (not pictured) in the Guatape reservoir in Colombia, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Juan Quiroz/via REUTERS.
A tourist ferry sinks in the Guatape reservoir in Colombia June 25, 2017 in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Juan Quiroz/via REUTERS
Rescuers wait at the dock after a tourist boat sank with 150 passengers onboard at the Guatape reservoir, Colombia REUTERS/ Fredy Builes

Luis Benavides and Christine Armario

A tourist boat packed with about 160 passengers has capsized on a reservoir near the Colombian city of Medellin, leaving at least six people dead and 31 missing, officials said.

Rescuers including firefighters and air force pilots in helicopters searched for survivors at the Guatape reservoir where El Almirante ferry sank.

A flotilla of recreational boats and jet-skis rushed to the scene, pulling people from the boat as it went down and averting an even deadlier tragedy.

Dramatic videos on social media show the turquoise and yellow-trimmed party boat rocking back and forth as people crawled down from a fourth-floor roof as it sank in a matter of minutes.

Survivors described hearing a loud explosion near the men's toilet that knocked out power a few minutes after the boat began its cruise around the giant lake.

As water flooded on board, pressure built and people were sucked under by the sinking ship.

"Those on the first and second floors sank immediately," survivor Lorena Salazar told local media. "All we could do was scream and call for help... it was completely chaotic."

Margarita Moncada, the head of the disaster response agency in Antioquia state, said that according to a preliminary report 99 people were rescued and another 40 reached shore on their own.

Speaking to reporters from the reservoir, she said nine people had been killed and around 28 were missing, but President Juan Manuel Santos arrived later in Guatape and said 122 people were either rescued or found their way to shore. Six had died and another 31 were missing, he said.

It is unclear what caused the boat to sink.

Some people who witnessed the tragedy from the shore said the boat appeared to be overloaded but Mr Santos said it was sailing well below capacity.

None of the passengers were wearing life vests. Complicating the search, there was no passenger list.

"Nobody really knows what happened," said Mr Santos, adding that naval officials were brought in to carry out an investigation.

Carlos Espinosa, an independent journalist from Guatape, said about a month ago locals woke to find the El Almirante filled with water and sinking at its dock, suggesting the vessel might not have been ready to return to the water.

The reservoir surrounding the soaring rocky outcrop of El Penol is a popular weekend destination a little more than an hour from Medellin. It was especially busy on Sunday as Colombians celebrated a long holiday weekend.

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