MANILA – At least 38 people died after a ferry carrying 189 passengers and crew capsized off Ormoc city 950km south of the Philippine capital of Manila.
Initial information provided by the Philippine Coast Guard said 118 of the passengers and 16 of the boat’s crew, including the captain, had been rescued, but up to 33 were still missing.
Television footage showed dozens of people clinging to the ferry’s hull, as they awaited men from a 40m outrigger boat to pluck them out of the water.
The ferry – identified in a Reuters report as MBCA Kim-Nirvana – was just 1km from port when it capsized.
A report on GMA-News TV network quoted the captain as saying he did not expect huge waves to hit his boat when he turned it towards the open sea.
Commander Armand Balilo, the Coast Guard’s spokesman, said in an interview the captain probably made a wrong manoeuvre and turned his boat’s broadside to a sudden swell.
He said the sea was calm.
“There were the occasional swells, but they were tolerable,” he said.
There had been no gale warning, and other ships managed to leave port without incident, he added.
Mr Balilo said the captain and his crew were being held for questioning.
A survivor told the network’s on-site stringer that the boat was loaded with hundreds of sacks of cement and rice.
The boat was headed from Ormoc City towards Pilar town in the Camotes Islands, east of the island province of Cebu in central Philippines.
It was at least 50m away from Ormoc City port when it capsized at 12.30pm on Thursday, Philippine National Red Cross Secretary-General Gwendolyn Pang said on her Facebook account.
Several survivors were transported to at least two hospitals, Ms Pang said.
Divers have been sent, as the authorities mount search-and-rescue operations. At least seven rescue boats picked up dozens of survivors, Mr Ciriaco Tolibao from the city’s disaster risk reduction and management office told AFP.
Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.
Overcrowding is common, and many of the vessels are in bad condition.
In the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster, 4,300 people died when a passenger ship collided with an oil tanker in 1987.
With input from AFP, Reuters