At least four people have died and seven others are missing after a Philippine ferry carrying more than 250 passengers and crew, including Christmas holiday travellers, sank in stormy conditions.
About 240 people were pulled alive from the rough seas, some with injuries, after the M/V Mercraft 3 sank in the Polillo Strait in the north-east coast of the country, officials said.
A survivor, Donel Jade Mendiola, told DZMM radio that bad weather had briefly delayed the ferry’s departure from Real town in Quezon province, but the weather improved and the vessel set off for Polillo island. Strong winds and large waves started to lash the vessel about two hours into the trip, he said.
“The vessel came to a halt and started taking in water in the front side. The passengers dashed to one side and the ferry started to sink,” Mendiola said. He said the passengers were instructed to put on life vests.
Coastguard boats, navy vessels and fishing boats rescued 240 people, many of them drifting in the rough sea, said a coastguard spokesman, Armand Balilo. He said the 206-tonne ferry could carry 286 people and apparently was not overcrowded.
Rescue efforts were halted temporarily after nightfall due to bad weather, coastguard officials said. Many of those rescued were taken to a government emergency hall in Dinahican village, where officials brought clothes, food, water and medicine, said Juanito Diaz, who heads Quezon’s disaster response agency.
Among the survivors taken to hospital was a 61-year-old Australian identified by authorities as Roland Kempt, who lives in the Philippines, the coastguard said in a statement.
Two women and two men died, officials said.
Earlier this week a tropical storm left more than 50 people dead and 31 others missing, mostly due to landslides, and damaged more than 10,000 houses in the central Philippines before weakening and blowing into the South China Sea.
The storm drenched Quezon province, on the southern tip of northern Luzon island, but there were no storm warnings when the Mercraft 3 sailed out, officials said.