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[Updated] Philippine Ferry Death Toll Rises

ferry disaster

Published Jul 3, 2015 3:25 PM by Reuters

The death toll from a capsized Philippine ferry rose to 51 on Friday as rescuers tried to right the overturned vessel and found more bodies, a coast guard official said.

The motorized, wooden-hulled MBCA Kim-Nirvana was carrying 187 passengers and crew when it rolled onto its side and overturned minutes after leaving the port of Ormoc City on Thursday. Coast guard Captain Pedro Tinampay said there were 141 survivors.

High waves and strong currents on Friday forced divers to postpone efforts to search the sea floor off Ormoc but rubber boats continued to scour the surface for survivors, Philippine National Police Director Asher Dolina said.

Part of the upturned ferry's hull was still visible above the surface of the water on Friday, a Reuters witness said.

Search and rescue operations continued through the night, with coast guard personnel reinforced by a Philippine navy ship and two air force planes.

A marine casualty investigation into the cause of the sinking will begin on Friday, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo told Philippine radio.

Survivors said the ferry appeared to turn sharply to the right and was hit by a large wave before it overturned after leaving port in Leyte province, south of the capital, Manila.

"We were given life vests but we were not able to wear them before the ferry sank," said Rhe-An Garciano, a survivor.

Panicked passengers crowded the right side of the ferry, causing it to tilt slowly before capsizing, Balilo said.

"The ferry was carrying cement and rice but it didn't appear to be overloaded," Balilo said.

The number on board was revised down on Friday after it was found two crew members did not board the ferry.

Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year from 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.