Philippines ferry disaster: At least 36 people dead after boat capsizes with 189 on board

The Kim Nirvana was travelling to Ormoc in rough seas

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The Independent Online

At least 36 people have died after a ferry capsized in the Philippines with 189 passengers and crew on board.

The boat was only half a mile from Ormoc port when the disaster happened in rough seas today.

Seven rescue vessels were sent to pluck the survivors clinging to the overturned hull of the Kim Nirvana to safety but 26 people are missing.

Men carry the dead body of passenger during the search and rescue operation

A spokesperson for the coastguard said 127 out of the 189 people on board were safe.

Some were hauled out of the water by nearby fishing boats and coastguard vessels, while others swam to dry land.

Shaken survivors told the Associated Press that the ferry was leaving Ormoc for the Camotes Islands when the bow suddenly rose out the water as passengers screamed.

Mary Jane Drake said it had been pulling slowly out of the port when the boat suddenly flipped to the left and overturned, trapping her and other passengers.

She, her mother and husband managed to swim to safety from underneath the ferry but others were not so lucky.

A survivor of a passenger ferry that capsized in rough waters cries after arriving at the pier in Ormoc City

“No one was able to jump out because it overturned very swiftly. There was no time to jump,” Mrs Drake said.

Her husband Lawrence Drake, a 48-year-old retired firefighter from 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 added.

Armand Balilo, a spokesperson for the coastguard, said search and rescue operations were hampered by the rough seas.

"There was an occasional swell but the sea condition was manageable. Some motorised outriggers were able to sail," he told a local TV news channel.

"There was no gale warning and while there was a tropical depression, it was far from the area of the accident."

The ferry sank near the port city of Ormoc

The captain and some of the crew are in custody while authorities investigate possible causes of the accident, including human error and bad weather.

The leader of Ormoc's rescue group, Ciriaco Tolibao, said divers are working with army frogmen scouring the hull of the overturned boat.

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

Ferries are a common mode of transport between more than 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines, where hundreds of people die in boat accidents every year.

Additional reporting by agencies