At least four people drowned and seven others were missing when a passenger ferry capsized Thursday after it was battered by rough seas off Quezon province south of the Philippine capital Manila, the civil defense office said.
Traveling from Ungos port in Real town east of Manila to Polillo Island, the Mercraft 3 was carrying 251 people when it went down off the coast of Infanta town shortly after noon. The ferry was licensed to carry up to 286 people.
The coast guard, assisted by local fishermen, responded to the disaster, rescuing 240 from the ferry. Many suffered slight injuries.
Area navy chief Commodore Adelius Bordado said strong winds stirred huge waves.
The coast guard scrambled rescue helicopters to fly over the sunken ferry and to conduct aerial reconnaissance, but weather conditions forces the helicopters to return, the civil defense office said.
Before the ferry set sail, the ship master had expressed concern about bad weather but was given the go-ahead by the coast guard, survivor Donel Jade Mendiola said.
“The weather was bad earlier, the coast guard was worried, but allowed us to leave. We were given life vests before we left, and while in the middle of the journey it started going down,” Mendiola told a local radio station.
Mendiola said the incident happened within minutes, and that he saw an old woman wading in the water while others were scattered about. “The rain was heavy,” he said.
The official cause of the sinking has not been determined.
Ferry accidents are common in the Philippines, an archipelagic country where travel by sea is a preferred method of travel.
In 2008, at least 800 people were killed when the Princess of the Stars capsized during a storm in the central Philippines. A 1987 collision between ferry Dona Paz and an oil tanker killed more than 4,300, in what is believed to be the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.