MANILA • Four people were killed and 11 others were missing yesterday after a ferry with hundreds on board capsized in stormy weather off the Philippines, rescuers said.
Over 200 passengers and crew were plucked to safety after the Mercraft 3 keeled over in heavy seas en route to a remote island, officials said.
"The wind suddenly picked up and the boat was forced to stop when the bow started taking in water. Passengers ran to the side just before it tipped over," student Donel Mendiola told DZMM radio. "Some of us swam, but I saw some old people who were apparently already dead,"
Two men and two women were killed, while the search for those still missing has been suspended for the night, Mr Ron Crisostomo, a civil defence official in Infanta town near Real town, told AFP.
"It was rainy and the wind was up. It was no longer safe for the rescuers, but they will continue tomorrow," Mr Crisostomo said.
Local council member Janet Balili told ABS-CBN television 11 people remain missing.
The station aired footage of rescuers taking injured survivors to a hospital. Four body bags were also seen being laid out on the floor.
The boat tipped over between the remote island of Polillo and Real town, about 70km east of Manila, shortly before noon, the coast guard said. It said the ferry was carrying 251 passengers and crew when it left the port of Real for Polillo, a 21/2-hour trip.
"We believe the weather was a big factor" in the accident, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said at a news conference in Manila.
The ferry sailed as Tropical Storm Tembin loomed over the southern Philippines, nearly a thousand kilometres away.
The government had advised Filipinos planning to return to their home provinces for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid heavy weather forecast to hit ahead of the holidays.
Another storm killed more than 40 people in the central Philippines last weekend.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.