Dozens die in Philippines ferry disaster

Dozens die in Philippines ferry disaster

A ferry carrying 173 people has capsized as it left a central Philippine port in choppy waters, leaving at least 36 dead and 19 others missing.

Officials said at least 118 people from the M/B Kim Nirvana were rescued by nearby fishing boats and coast guard personnel or swam to safety off Ormoc city on Leyte Island.

Spokesman Armand Balilo said the wooden outrigger ferry was leaving Ormoc for the Camotes Islands, about 27 miles to the south, when it was lashed by strong waves.

Survivors said that the bow of the ferry suddenly rose from the water before the vessel flipped over on one side, turning the vessel upside down and trapping passengers inside.

Mary Jane Drake, who was travelling with her mother and American husband, said the ferry was pulling slowly out of the port when it suddenly flipped to the left in strong waves and overturned, trapping her and other passengers. She, her mother and husband swam to safety from underneath the ferry.

"No one was able to jump out because it overturned very swiftly. There was no time to jump," she said.

Her husband Lawrence Drake, a 48-year-old retired firefighter from Rochester, New York, said he ran to one side of the boat to try to balance it but it was too late.

"I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front as far as I could, and tried to lean over. I am a big guy, and tried to push the boat back over but it was way too late," he said.

Within a few seconds, the boat overturned, with many of the passengers screaming in panic, he said.

Mr Balilo added that the captain and some of the crew of the overturned ferry boat have been rescued and are in custody pending an investigation.

He described the boat as a large, 36-ton outrigger that plies the Ormoc-Camotes route regularly.

Mr Balilo said coast guard district head Capt Pedto Tinampay is requesting a vessel to be able to lift the capsized boat.

According to the Ormoc rescue group team leader Ciriaco Tolibao, six divers are working at the moment along with several army frogmen and coast guard divers - scouring the hull of the overturned boat.

"We are trying hopefully to find survivors or at least recover the bodies," he said.

It is a low tide now and the bottom part of the boat's hull is visible above the water.

Rescue officials later revised the total to 35 people confirmed dead and 20 others missing.