At least four people are dead after a ferry capsized between Dinahican Point, Infanta and Agta Point, Polilio Island today (Thursday, December 21).
Latest reports say that 240 passengers have been rescued, while seven are still missing after the disaster unfolded at about noon.
The accident occurred off the town of Real, about 40 miles east of Manila, as the ferry, Mercraft 3, sailed towards Polillo in rough weather, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Captain Armand Balilo told a news conference.
“We have heard (there were) casualties,” he said, “but we’re still validating.
“We believe the weather was a big factor.”
Capt. Balilo said the ferry left Real in the face of Tropical Storm Vinta (Tembin), which is forecast to make landfall early tomorrow.
However, the vessel was allowed to sail as there were no storm warnings in place for that region of eastern Luzon, he added.
The ferry was authorised to carry up to 286 people.
The coastguard and Army have dispatched rescue teams that are continuing to work at the scene.
Capt. Balilo said rescue operations will continue “through the night” if necessary.
The bodies of four victims so far recovered have been taken to Claro M Recto Hospital in Infanta, Quezon.
The government has urged people planning travel for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid the heavy weather that has been forecast.
While there is no evidence that the Mercraft 3 was overcrowded or poorly maintained, the maritime transport network of the Philippines has long been plagued by such failings.
In the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker 30 years ago yesterday. More than 4,000 people returning from Leyte Island to Manila for Christmas perished in the tragedy.
More recently, the wooden ferry “Kim Nirvana” capsized shortly after departure from the city of Ormoc in the central Philippines in 2015, killing 61 people.
The accident was thought to have been due to overcrowding. As well as passengers, the boat was carrying sacks of cement, rice and fertiliser.
In 2013, at least 71 were killed when the Saint Thomas Aquinas ferry sank after colliding with a cargo ship near Cebu. The ship was carrying 830 passengers and crew.