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The scene of the worst peacetime maritime disaster in history — known as “Asia’s Titanic” — has been surveyed by the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel, the exploration ship owned and operated by the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

R/V Petrel worked in partnership with the National Museum of the Philippines to examine the site of the M/V Doña Paz and M/T Vector in Tablas Strait in April. The passenger ferry and oil tanker collided on Dec. 20, 1987, killing an estimated 4,386 people. Only 24 people were reported to have survived.

The finding is the latest for a Vulcan team that has located and surveyed numerous deep-sea shipwrecks thanks to its use of advanced underwater equipment and technology.

“During our work searching for WWII wrecks in the Philippine Seas, people frequently asked us to look for the Doña Paz and told us stories of loved ones who had perished,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan Inc., said in a news release Thursday. “We were honored to assist the Philippines government in this mission and hope the news brings closure to families and friends of those lost at sea.”

M/V Doña Paz docked in 1984. (Wikimedia Commons Photo)

The Maritime Executive website described the accident, which took place as the heavily overcrowded Doña Paz sailed from Leyte island to the Filipino capital Manila. A petroleum fire spread from the Vector to the ferry and people reportedly jumped into flaming waters.

Vulcan said the wrecks of the two ships were found in the Sibuyan Sea, Philippines, more than 2,200 meters apart in depths of more than 500 meters. Both wrecks are sitting upright on their keels and are largely intact on the seabed.

The release of the images, while captured last spring, are timed to the 32nd anniversary of the disaster on Friday.

The crew of the 250-foot Petrel has discovered more than 30 sunken warships, with previous finds including the USS Indianapolis, the USS Lexington, the USS Juneau, the USS Helena, the USS Hornet and the Japanese carriers IJN Kaga and IJN Akagi.

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