Over one hundred missing and thirty-one dead in Philippines Thomas Aquinas ferry disaster

Investigation into how the ferry collided with a cargo ship will begin after rescue operations are complete

At least 31 people have died 171 are missing after an overnight collision between a ferry and a cargo vessel near the central Philippine port of Cebu.

The collision sent ferry passengers jumping into the ocean and left many others trapped. At least 28 were confirmed dead.

The captain of the MV Thomas Aquinas ferry, which was approaching the port late on Friday, ordered the ship abandoned when it began listing and then sank just minutes after colliding with the MV Sulpicio Express, according to local coast guards.

The 138-metre long ferry carried 752 passengers, including children, and 118 crew members, of which 629 have been recued.

Coast guard chief Commander Weniel Azcuna said that 171 people are still missing, some of them possibly trapped inside the ship that sank in waters about 33 metres deep off Talisay city in Cebu province, approximately 350 miles south of the capital Manila.

Navy divers recovered at least four more bodies from the underwater wreck early Saturday. Bodies were seend reportedly coated with fuel and oil that spilled from the ferry.

"There could be more bodies there, but there were ropes inside that our divers could get entangled in," Tuason said.

An investigation will begin after the rescue operation, the coast guard said.

Accidents at sea are fairly common in the Philippine archipelago due to frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

In 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.

In 2008, the ferry MV Princess of the Stars capsized during a typhoon in the central Philippines, killing nearly 800 people.