Hundreds of victims still unidentified three months after Typhoon Frank

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Typhoon Frank stormed across the Philippine Sea June 21, 2008 capsizing numerous boats, killing hundreds and leaving an estimated 1,330 missing in total including 820 passengers and crew from the MV Princess of the Stars ferry.

A Requiem Mass held for the first 10 DNA-assisted identifications of victims of the Philippines ferry disaster

Since then Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) teams in Cebu City, Philippines made up of experts from the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). and INTERPOL have painstakingly matched DNA from recovered bodies to that of blood samples donated by relatives of those still missing.

Analysis of DNA in ICMP's Sarajevo lab

"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" according to a recent press release from the ICMP.

"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."

An NBI-DVI report explains "DNA matches are made by comparing profiles from victims to a database of profiles from their relatives. A minimum of two close relatives [are] sought for each individual."

NBI-DVI has so far collected 1,916 blood samples from relatives of missing victims representing 809 missing persons. These samples are then matched against the 318 DNA samples from recovered bodies received by the ICMP.

“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," said NBI Director Nestor M. Mantaring in the press release.

"The NBI, through its DVI team, was tasked [with identifying] the victims of this tragedy. With help from 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.