Philippines police have filed murder charges against the owners and crew of a passenger ferry that capsized just minutes after leaving port, killing at least 59 people.
The Kim Nirvana vessel carrying 189 passengers and crew capsized off the central Philippines on Thursday and charges were filed late on Friday in the central city of Ormoc.
A total of 19 people have been charged, including owner Joge Bong Zarco and Captain Warren Oliviero, local police official Asher Dolina told the AFP news agency.
Officials believe that overloading of cargo and passengers may have caused the disaster as survivors reportedly said there was up to 150 sacks of cement, adding 7,500 kilograms to the ship's load excluding passengers.
According to the coast guard, the ferry was fit to carry 194 people including crew, but there were 198 people on board during the incident.
"The ship might not be too overloaded in terms of passengers, but imagine the weight of its cargo," Ormoc city councillor Godiardo Ebcas told AFP, adding the cargo at the bottom of the ship was not fastened to the floor as well.
"This could have cause the weight of the ship to shift."
Bloated bodies spilled out of the ferry's wooden hull as a crane lifted it from the water, he said.
"If there was negligence, it should be pursued by investigators. Appropriate charges will be filed when necessary," presidential spokesman Abigail Valte told reporters on Saturday.
Passengers of the Philippines’ ferry system regularly face death due to poorly-maintained, loosely-regulated ferries.