At least 36 people dead and 26 missing after boat carrying nearly 200 people overturned in relatively calm waters half a mile off coast
A ferry loaded with nearly 200 people has capsized off a port in the central Philippines, killing at least 36.
At least 26 people were still missing after the wooden-hulled Kim Nirvana tipped over in unexplained circumstances about half an hour after setting sail from Ormoc city at midday, the coastguard said.
Rescuers pulled more than 100 survivors from the sea and continued to scour the waters about a half a mile from the coast, where the accident happened, said Ciriaco Tolibao, an official from the city’s disaster risk reduction and management office.
“Some clung on to the hull of the overturned vessel, while some were rescued while swimming toward the shore,” Tolibao said.
Just a small section of the boat’s underbelly, surrounded by rescue boats, was visible above water by late afternoon, according to an AFP photographer.
A distraught male survivor wept as crew members clad in blue brought him ashore, while others, looking shaken, recounted their ordeal to rescue officials.
A row of soaked survivors squatted on the pier nearby, awaiting attention, while medical workers placed the injured on to stretchers.
The vessel was carrying 173 passengers and 16 crew members, and was licensed to carry up to 200 people, Tolibao said.
He said many of the passengers were traders bringing farm produce and other merchandise to the Camotes island grouping, whose residents rely mostly on fishing.
Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said 36 bodies had been recovered and 127 people rescued.
The authorities were puzzled about how the accident could have happened in relatively calm waters, and discounted speculation that it was overloaded.
“There wasn’t any storm or any gale. We’re trying to find out [why it happened],” Balilo said. He said the boat’s outriggers apparently broke in the accident, and it was possible the crew had committed a navigational error.
The Kim Nirvana was on its normal route to the islands, which sit about an hour’s sail from Ormoc city.
Tolibao said at least 53 survivors had been taken to hospital and more than two dozen others walked home.
Ormoc and the rest of Leyte island was ravaged by super-typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.
The storm left more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines.
A flash flood in 1991 killed around 6,000 people in Ormoc, in one of the country’s deadliest natural disasters.
The Philippines is hit by about 20 typhoons and storms each year, many of them deadly.
Ferries, often poorly maintained and loosely regulated, are the backbone of maritime travel in the sprawling archipelago.
There have been frequent accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years, including the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster, in 1987, when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.