MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Two people died early Friday after their ferry sank in Philippine waters, but 54 passengers and crew were saved when rescuers pulled them to safety.
The ferry was going from Albay province in the center of the Philippines to the nearby province of Masbate when it sank. Coast guard and navy vessels and helicopters were searching the area, aided by local fishermen.
Officials were not sure of the exact number on board. The ferry's manifest listed 35 passengers and 22 crew, but provincial disaster official Bernard Alejandro said there were likely five more on board.
Coast guard rescuers reached most of the people about 1 nautical mile (1.6 kilometer) from the shore, where the ferry sank, said Chief Petty Officer Bayani Belesario, the deputy coast guard commander for Masbate province. Some were picked up by fishermen.
Amadeo Tan, a village chief in Masbate's Aroroy township, said his wife called him from the ferry when it was sinking. Tan told ABS-CBN television that he alerted local authorities and set off to the area.
"When we got there, we could no longer see any part of the boat. It had already sunk," he said, adding some passengers were in the water wearing life vests or in a lifeboat. The weather was calm and apparently did not cause the sinking, according to the ferry's captain, who was among those rescued.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.