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Up to 50 dead in latest Philippines ferry disaster

Up to 50 dead in latest Philippines ferry disaster

Manila: The Don Dexter Kathleen ferry capsized yesterday leaving 39 people dead and 14 missing. The vessel, with 119 people listed on board, keeled over after being struck by a freak wind off the island of Masbate, AFP writes, quoting local police chief Senior Superintendent Ruben Sindac. The iaccident is the latest of a string of ferry disasters in the Philippines.

"The Don Dexter Kathleen capsized due to a freak accident, it was hit by a high wind despite fair weather and calm waters," Sindac told local radio. He said rescue services recovered 39 bodies while 76 survivors had been pulled from the water. The navy, coast guard and local authorities were continuing to search the area between Masbate and Sorsogon port in southern Luzon, he added.

Sindac did not rule out the possibility that there may have been more people onboard the ferry. According to reports, it is a common practice for inter-island ferries to be overloaded with last-minute passengers boarding without being listed in the manifest.

Sindac said the ferry had just left the port town of Dimasalang on the north east coast of Masbate for Sorsogon port 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Second Lieutenant Jeffrey Collado, the local coast guard chief, said four people were still missing despite fears that there may be more still unaccounted for.

Collado said the ferry was hit by a "freak whirlwind" that rose suddenly when the ferry left port. He added 76 people were rescued by boats that rushed to the site and that the navy, coast guard and local authorities are searching for any more survivors.

Coast guard chief of staff Captain Efren Evangelista said the weather and waters were calm and that there was no reason for them to stop the vessel from setting sail. "Of course, we will be conducting an investigation of this, but for now we will be concentrating on the search and rescue operations," he added. 

The accident comes four months after the 23,000 tonne inter-island ferry, Princess of the Stars, capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan carrying 850 passengers and crew. Only 57 passengers and crew survived the accident which was the worst maritime disaster in the Philippines for 20 years.  [04/11/08]