Nine dead, 33 missing after ferry sinks

A FERRY carrying nearly 1,000 passengers sank in the southern Philippines yesterday, leaving at least nine people dead and more than 30 missing.

Coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said the Superferry 9 began to list before dawn yesterday about nine miles off Zamboanga del Norte province, rousing terrified passengers from their sleep and sending many jumping into the water.

Rescuers transferred over 926 of 968 passengers and crewmen to two nearby commercial ships, a navy gunboat and a fishing boat, he said.

Admiral Tamayo said a search was under way for 33 people who remained missing. A coast guard statement said rescue efforts were continuing through the night.

The Superferry 9 began to list before dawn about 15km off Zamboanga del Norte province, rousing passengers from their sleep and sending many jumping into the water, coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said.

Navy ships were deployed and three military aircraft scoured the seas, Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. American troops providing counterterrorism training to Philippine soldiers in the region deployed a civilian helicopter and five boats, some carrying paramedics, to help, US Col William Coultrup said.

Teodoro said two men and a child drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. The bodies of two other passengers were later plucked from the sea by fishermen, the coast guard said.

The cause of the listing was not clear. The ferry skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon the ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, vice president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry.

There were reports that the ferry listed to the right due to a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Co-ordinating Council said. As the 7,268-ton ferry tilted, some passengers may have panicked and jumped into the water, the coast guard said.

Passenger Roger Cinciron told DZMM radio by mobile phone that he felt the ferry was tilting around midnight, but he was assured by a crewman that everything was well. About two hours later he was roused from sleep by the sound of crashing cargo below his cabin, he said.

The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Iloilo city in the central Philippines later yesterday but ran into problems midway.

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