The Philippine coast guard and fishermen rescued 168 people who were on board a passenger ship that tilted for three hours before sinking early Sunday in the central Philippines, officials said.

The steel-hulled M/V Asia Malaysia was heading from the central Cebu region to Iloilo province on an overnight trip when it began to tilt to its right, or starboard side, at dawn Sunday, coast guard chief Admiral Ramon Liwag said. The cause of the problem was not immediately clear.

The ship’s captain sent a distress call to the coast guard and ordered all passengers and his crewmen to abandon the 2,400-ton vessel, which tilted about six kilometres from its destination before sinking amid rain, coast guard spokesman Lt. Commander Algier Ricafrente said.

oast guard vessels, fishermen and two passenger ships saved 168 passengers and crewmen from the ship, which had a capacity of 550 people, Mr. Ricafrente said. It was unclear how many people the M/V Asia Malaysia was carrying.

coast guard helicopter was scouring the area for other possible survivors and to check whether there was an oil slick from the ship, he said.

Although the weather has improved, rains were still battering the area, Mr. Ricafrente said.

Tropical Storm Nock-ten lashed the central and northeastern Philippines last week, leaving 52 people dead and 27 others missing. Another storm, Muifa, blew in from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday but did not hit land.

Muifa later strengthened into a powerful typhoon. It was packing sustained winds of 108 miles (175 kilometres) per hour and gusts of 130 mph (210 kph) as it blew toward southern Japan and South Korea on Sunday.

The slow-moving typhoon was swirling over the Pacific Ocean about 609 miles (980 kilometres) off the northeastern Philippine province of Aurora, according to forecasters.

More In: International | News