Death toll from capsized Philippine ferry rises to 51, with 141 survivors

Passengers of the capsized MBCA Kim-Nirvana ferry (far left) are rescued by a tugboat of the Philippine coast guard near a port in Ormoc city, central Philippines on July 2, 2015.
Passengers of the capsized MBCA Kim-Nirvana ferry (far left) are rescued by a tugboat of the Philippine coast guard near a port in Ormoc city, central Philippines on July 2, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - The death toll from a capsized Philippine ferry rose to 51 on Friday as rescuers tried to right the overturned vessel and found more bodies, a coast guard official said.

Divers searched waters in the central Philippines on Friday for people still missing after a ferry carrying 187 passengers and crew sank a day earlier, the coast guard said.

Coast guard Captain Pedro Tinampay said there were 141 survivors.

The motorised, wooden-hulled boat MBCA Kim-Nirvana, a motorised outrigger, rolled on its side and overturned minutes after leaving the port of Ormoc City. The number on board was revised down from 189 on Friday after it was found that two crew members did not board the ferry.

High waves and strong currents on Friday forced divers to postpone efforts to search the sea floor off Ormoc but rubber boats continued to scour the surface for survivors, Philippine National Police Director Asher Dolina said.

Part of the upturned ferry's hull was still visible above the surface of the water on Friday, a Reuters witness said.

Search and rescue operations continued through the night, with coast guard personnel reinforced by a Philippine navy ship and two air force planes.

A formal marine casualty investigation into the cause of the sinking will begin on Friday, Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo told local radio.

A preliminary investigation points to human error after the wooden hulled ferry made a sharp right turn soon after it left port in Leyte province, south of the capital, Manila.

Passengers said the ferry appeared to turn sharply to the right and was hit by a large wave before it overturned after leaving port in Leyte province, south of the capital, Manila.

"We were given life vests but we were not able to wear them before the ferry sank," said survivor Rhe-An Garciano.

Panicked passengers crowded the right side of the ferry, causing it to tilt slowly before capsizing, Mr Balilo said. "The ferry was carrying cement and rice but it didn't appear to be overloaded," he said.

Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year from 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.