Rescuers faced bad weather on Saturday in the search for more than 100 people missing after a ferry sank in the central Philippines, killing at least 31 on board, officials said.
The MV St Thomas Aquinas collided with a cargo ship off Talisay City in Cebu province, 580 kilometres south of Manila, on Friday evening, forcing many people to jump into the sea.
Emergency workers rescued 629 survivors overnight, while 31 were confirmed dead and 171 were missing, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said.
“We have information that some more bodies have been recovered,” he said.
But he stressed that authorities were still hoping to recover survivors: “We should not say there is no more hope for life.” Search and rescue operations were suspended in the late afternoon amid choppy seas and rain.
“We stopped the rescue operations due to bad weather,” coast guard commandant Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said.
“We will resume the operations on Sunday morning.” Navy divers earlier found bodies trapped inside the 11,405—ton vessel, said navy operations officer Commander Noel Escalona.
“They weren’t able to count how many were trapped,” he said.
Coast guard vice commandant Rear Admiral Luis Tuason said the ferry sank about 10 minutes after the collision.
“The vessel sustained a huge hole and took on water fast,” he said.
Junjun Col, a survivor, said there was chaos when the ferry listed after the collision.
“People were bumping into each other and many were screaming and crying,” he told a Manila news network.
“A woman clung to me as I jumped off the vessel, and I just held on to her as tightly as I could.” The 2Go Group, which owns the sunken vessel, said the crew distributed life jackets to passengers and carried out emergency procedures to abandon the ship.
“At the same time, the ship’s officers sent a distress signal to the nearest Philippine Coast Guard station to alert them,” it said.
Transportation Secretary Abaya said the confirmed number of people on board the ship was 831 - 715 passengers and 116 crew members. The vessel had an authorized capacity of 1,010 passengers, according to the 2Go Group.
Sea travel is a key mode of transport in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. Accidents are common and are often blamed on poor safety standards and overloading.