Ferry with 251 capsizes off Real, Quezon

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This photo taken on December 21, 2017, shows four dead bodies in cadaver bags at the CM Recto Provincial Hospital in Infanta, west of Manila. Rescue teams in the Philippines resumed their search for survivors after a ferry carrying more than 250 passengers capsized, with at least five confirmed dead. The accident occurred in rough waters off the main island of Luzon Thursday as the Mercraft 3 keeled over en route to a remote island. / AFP

A FERRY with 251 people on board capsized in rough seas off the Philippines on Thursday with reports of an unspecified number of casualties, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

The accident occurred off the town of Real in Quezon, about 70 kilometers east of Manila as the boat headed from the port towards the island of Polillo in rough weather, Commander Armand A. Balilo, PCG spokesperson told a news conference.

“We have heard (there were) casualties, but we’re still validating,” he said, adding that rescue helicopters and sea vessels were heading to the site.

“We believe the weather was a big factor” in the accident, he said, adding nearby boats had already rescued some of the 251 people on board the vessel, which he did not name.

He said the ferry left Real as the southern section of the archipelago braced for Tropical Storm Tembin (local name: Vinta), which is forecast to hit land early Friday.

However, Mr. Balilo said the vessel was allowed to sail as there were no storm warnings at or around Real or Polillo, east of the main island of Luzon.

The boat was authorized to carry 286 people, he added.

The government has advised Filipinos planning to return to their home provinces for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid heavy weather forecast to hit ahead of the holidays.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands on the Pacific typhoon belt, is plagued by poor sea transport, with badly regulated boats and ships providing the backbone for the system prone to overcrowding and accidents.

The latest accident occurred 30 years to the day after another Philippine ferry, the Doña Paz, collided with an oil tanker, claiming more than 4,000 lives in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. — AFP