189 on board, dozens dead or missing
A FERRY loaded with 189 people capsized off the central Philippine port of Ormoc yesterday, officials said, killing at least 38 in the country's latest maritime tragedy.
Some 33 people were still missing after the wooden-hulled motorised outrigger Kim Nirvana tipped over in unexplained circumstances about half an hour after setting sail from Ormoc city at midday, the coast guard said.
Rescuers pulled 118 survivors from the sea.
Vegetable trader Reynante Manza, 45, cried as he recounted how the 33-ton vessel suddenly rolled to one side as it reversed course shortly after backing out of the pier of Ormoc, dragging his wife and many others underwater.
"It rolled while attempting to turn around swiftly. I am alive because I jumped overboard as soon as it happened," Mr Manza, who returned to Ormoc, told reporters.
Just a small section of the boat's hull, surrounded by rescue boats, was visible above water by late afternoon, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The vessel, which was licensed to carry up to 200 people, was carrying 173 passengers and 16 crew members," said Ciriaco Tolibao, an official from the city's disaster risk reduction and management office.
Many of the passengers were traders taking farm produce and other merchandise to the Camotes island group, which lies about 44km to the south and whose residents rely mostly on fishing, Mr Tolibao added.
The authorities were puzzled as to how the accident had happened in the relatively calm waters, following initial reports of choppy seas, and discounted speculation that it was overloaded.
"There wasn't any storm or any gale. We're trying to find out (why it happened)," Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said.
He said the boat's outriggers apparently broke in the accident, and added it was possible the crew had committed a navigational error.
"Authorities took the captain and some crew members of the boat into custody," Commander Balilo said, adding that a formal investigation would be conducted.
Eli Borinaga, Vice-Mayor of Pilar town on an island to the south, had hoped to join the ferry but did not make it on time. He cited a witness at Ormoc port who saw the boat make a sharp turn just before it capsized.
Ormoc and the rest of Leyte island was ravaged by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing across the central Philippines.
Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.
Overcrowding is common, and many of the vessels are in bad condition, reported Reuters.