Five die in Philippines ferry sinking


Nine hundred passengers were plucked from a sinking ferry off the Philippines today, officials said, but at least five people were killed and rescuers were scouring the waters for 63 more who were still missing.

The rescued passengers were brought ashore by other ships, and the Philippine authorities said they hoped some of those still missing had been rescued by a fleet of fishing vessels and small boats that also came to the stricken ferry's aid.

"The search and rescue is still continuing, coastguard vessels are still there scouring the area," Commander Armand Balilo, Coastguard spokesman, told local radio.

The SuperFerry 9vessel was carrying more than 960 passengers and crew when it set off from General Santos City, on the southern island of Mindanao, for the central city of Iloilo.

It began listing early this morning, prompting authorities to sound a general alert and rush rescue vessels to the area, coastguard commander Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo told reporters.

The weather was clear at the time, but the crew had reported problems with the generator, Mr Tamayo said.

Officials said they would investigate what caused the ferry's sinking, but a situation report from the government's disaster coordinating council said the incident may have been caused by a hole in the ferry's hull.

"We got a report to that effect but until the Board of Marine Inquiry have been constituted and they finally establish what really happened, we cannot say so," Glenn Rabonza, head of the disaster agency, said in the report.

The ferry was carrying 200,000 litres of industrial fuel oil, 80,000 litres of automotive diesel oil, and 10,000 litres of lube oil when it departed Manila for Iloilo and General Santos City.

It was on its return voyage from General Santos to Iloilo and Manila when it encountered problems, the coastguard report said.

"No dangerous or hazardous cargo was declared to be onboard MV SuperFerry 9," it said.

Ferries are an important mode of transport in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. But accidents are common, because of overcrowding, poor maintenance or tropical storms.

Last year, more than 800 people were killed when the Princess of the Starsferry capsized during a typhoon. In the country's worst maritime disaster, more than 4,000 people were killed when a ferry collided with an oil tanker in 1987.