Four dead, 21 missing in new Philippine ferry sinking

Four dead, 21 missing in new Philippine ferry sinkingManila, Dec 27 - At least four people were killed and 21 missing in a new passenger ferry sinking in the Philippines, the coast guard and Red Cross said Sunday.

The MV Baleno 9 sank late Saturday off Batangas City, 85 km south of Manila. Nearby ships rescued 63 people from the water, the coast guard said.

The accident occurred just days after a wooden-hulled passenger ferry collided with a fishing boat and sank off Cavite province on Christmas Eve, leaving three people dead and 24 missing.

The coast guard said the Baleno 9 was carrying 70 passengers and 18 crew members when it sank while on its way to Batangas City from Oriental Mindoro province.

The coast guard said rescuers had recovered three bodies, while the national Red Cross said the death toll had already reached four.

The Red Cross added that 66 people had been rescued, but noted that volunteers were checking the data for double-listing.

According to initial inquiry, the 199-gross-ton vessel took in water from the bow ramp and listed before it sank. The coast guard said it was still investigating the cause.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, said vehicles aboard the ship had not been properly secured and shifted during the travel, causing the boat to tilt.

"The vehicles, the trucks caused the ship's tilting," he said.

On Friday, the passenger ferry MV Catalyn rammed into the fishing boat FV Anathalia and sank off Cavite province, just outside Manila.

Twenty-four people were still missing and feared trapped in that accident. The coast guard said it would continue search operations for 10 days.

Sea travel is a major mode of transportation in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. Accidents are frequent due to bad weather, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

In June 2008, more than 800 people drowned when a passenger ferry sank off the central Philippines at the height of Typhoon Fenghsen.

The country was the site of the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster in 1987 when more than 4,000 people perished in a collision between the ferry Dona Paz and an oil tanker before Christmas Day.  (dpa)