More than 36 people have died after a ferry carrying 189 passengers and crew capsized off central Philippines, the coast guard and police said on Thursday.
118 passengers were rescued from the upturned hull of the Kim Nirvana while 19 others remained missing, Geraldine Galleposo of the Philippine Coast Guard’s public affairs office said.
The incident occurred about noon, shortly after the ferry departed from the town of Ormoc, on the western side of the central Philippine island of Leyte on its way to Pilar town on Camotes Island.
Search and rescue operations are continuing without interruption to save the victims of the disaster before it gets dark.
"Search and rescue operations are ongoing. Initially we learned that [the accident] was due to big waves," said Rey Gozon, director of the office of civil defense for the region.
In monsoon season, poor weather conditions can make it difficult to send helicopters and divers to the scene, said chairman of the Philippine National Red Cross, Richard Gordon adding that "the winds are really bad and the seas are really bad."
Because it is unclear why the disaster happened, authorities are searching for what triggered the accident, considering human factor and weather conditions, according to coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo.
Authorities took the captain and some crew members into custody. After all rescue operations are completed, a formal investigation will be launched by the authorities, Balilo said.
"There was an occasional swell but the sea condition was manageable. Some motorised outriggers were able to sail," he told a local TV news channel.
"There was no gale warning and while there was a tropical depression, it was far from the area of the accident," Bailo added.
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the National Red Cross in Manila said the boat which is canoe style and has a small engine is traditionally used for transporting people and goods.
"The passengers would have been farmers or fishermen, or ordinary businessmen- common folks," Gordon said.
"They are not very well-off, otherwise they would be on better vessels or take the plane. But obviously, these are poor folks, simple folks who are trying to eke out an existence." he added.
Passengers of the Philippines’ ferry system are regularly face death due to poorly-maintained, loosely-regulated ferries.
In September, three people lost their lives after the passenger ferry Maharlika 2 capsized off Leyte Island.