At least 24 people are dead and 274 are missing after a passenger ferry carrying nearly 700 people sank in the central Philippine port of Cebu after colliding with a cargo vessel, the coastguard's deputy chief told AFP on Saturday.
The Thomas Aquinas ferry was carrying around 700 people, reports said. It quickly sank on Friday night following the collision off port of Cebu, the country's second biggest city, said Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, vice commandant of the Philippine coastguard.
The captain of the ferry MV Thomas Aquinas ordered the ship abandoned after it began listing and then sank after hitting the cargo vessel, coastguard officer Joy Villegas said.
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She said hours after the collision on Friday night, at least five people were confirmed dead and more than 250 rescued. Authorities were still checking others who had been taken to hospitals.
Two coastguard vessels and other nearby ships were involved in the rescue operation not far from the port of Cebu, Villegas said.
Passenger Jerwin Agudong told radio station DZBB that some people were trapped and he saw bodies floating in the water. "It seems some were not able to get out. I pity the children. We saw dead bodies on the side, and some being rescued."
He said the ferry was entering Cebu port when it and the cargo vessel, which was on the way out, collided. He said he and other passengers jumped from the ferry in front of the cargo vessel.
"One of the persons who jumped with us hit his head on metal. He is shaking and he is bloodied," Agudong said.
He said the crew of the ferry distributed life jackets while the ship was slowly sinking.
He said the ferry came from Nasipit in Agusan del Sur province in the southern Philippines. Accidents at sea are common in the Philippines. In 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.