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ASIA: More than 50 dead or missing as ferry capsizes

15 Dec 2008 5:17 PM

MANILA, Dec 15 AFP - At least 22 people were killed and 34 others were reported missing after a ferry capsized in the northern Philippines, the coast guard said on Monday.

The vessel, "Maejan," carrying at least 102 passengers, was on its way from the island of Calayan to the country's main island of Luzon late Sunday when it was hit by large waves, said coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Gary Gimotea.

Two coast guard rescue boats and a search plane have been dispatched to the area to search for the missing, the coast guard said. Civil defence officials said however that heavy seas were hampering search efforts.

Forty-six survivors have been rescued from the area where the boat capsized, just off the town of Ballesteros, the coast guard said.

Earlier coast guard reports said 28 people had been killed, but Gimotea said a "double-checking" of the tally showed the number of confirmed dead was lower than first reported.

Among the dead is a one-year-old boy, the civil defence office said, adding that the area is known for its strong waves and currents.

Gimotea said initial reports said the boat, which was heading to the town of Aparri, was overloaded when it set off. It was not immediately clear what the ferry's maximum capacity was.

A special marine board will be convened to investigate the incident, he said, but added: "At the moment, we are concentrating on search and rescue."

The capsizing was the latest in a string of maritime accidents to hit this archipelago.

In November, at least 42 people died when a ferry was hit by a freak whirlwind in the central Philippines. One person died in a separate incident late in the month.

In June, the 23,000-tonne Princess of the Stars, carrying 850 passengers and crew, capsized after hitting a reef off the central island of Sibuyan at the height of Typhoon Fengshen.

Only 57 passengers and crew survived in the country's worst maritime disaster for 20 years.