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Another ferry tragedy strikes in the Philippines

Manila: A rescue operation is under way in the Philippines after a ferry belonging to Aboitiz Transport System sank with more than 960 people on board, reports the BBC. Latest reports say 900 people have now been rescued from the SuperFerry 9 but five people have died and more than 60 are still unaccounted for.

The passenger ferry was sailing off the southern Zamboanga peninsula some 860km south of the Philippine capital, Manila, when it began listing. It issued a distress call, prompting the coastguard, the navy, the air force and private boats to help.

The Philippine Defence Minister, Gilberto Teodoro, told the BBC that the rescue operation had been helped by good weather and the presence of other vessels close to the site.

The SuperFerry 9 was said to be carrying 847 passengers and 117 crew plus four sea marshals on its journey from General Santos to Iloilo.

A statement issued on the SuperFerry website said that the ship began listing to the right at 0230 on Sunday (1830 GMT Saturday). Passengers were told to don life jackets while the captain tried to correct the list, the statement said.

When the captain determined that the list was irreversible, he gave the order to abandon ship, and life rafts were launched. The statement said that the crew were the last to leave the ship at 0842 local time, when the ferry tilted and sank. Those rescued were transferred to navy ships, two nearby civilian vessels and other smaller boats which had responded to the Mayday call.

The Philippine air force and army have sent helicopters to help in the search for those still missing. Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, of the Philippine coastguard, said he hoped those unaccounted for had been rescued by a fleet of fishing vessels and small boats.

The cause of the list is as yet unknown. The weather was reported to be fair at the time of the incident.  [06/09/09]

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