[MANILA] A ferry carrying 189 passengers and crew capsized off the central Philippines in heavy waves on Thursday, killing at least 36 people but the majority of those on board were rescued, the coast guard and police said.
The MBCA Kim-Nirvana, a motorised outrigger with 173 passengers and 16 crew on board, capsized suddenly minutes after leaving the port of Ormoc.
Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said 127 people survived, but could not immediately give details of their rescue, while 26 were still listed as missing. "Search and rescue operations are ongoing. Initially we learned that it was due to big waves," said Rey Gozon, director of the office of civil defence for the region.
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.
Balilo said authorities were looking at various possible causes for the accident, including human error and bad weather. "There was an occasional swell but the sea condition was manageable. Some motorised outriggers were able to sail," he told a local TV news channel. "There was no gale warning and while there was a tropical depression, it was far from the area of the accident," he said.
Eli Borinaga, the vice mayor of Pilar town on an island to the south who had hoped to join the ferry but didn't make it on time, told local radio that there was only light rain at the time of the accident.
He cited a witness at Ormoc port who saw the boat make a sharp turn just before it capsized.