CEBU, Philippines (AP) — Divers combed through a sunken ferry Saturday in search of dozens of people missing after a collision with a cargo vessel near the central Philippine port of Cebu that sent passengers jumping into the ocean and leaving many others trapped. At least 31 were confirmed dead and hundreds rescued.
The captain of the ferry MV Thomas Aquinas ordered the ship abandoned when it began listing and then sank just minutes after collision late Friday with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete, coast guard deputy chief Rear Adm. Luis Tuason said.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Abaya announced official passenger figures following confusion over the actual number of people on the ferry.
He said the ferry carried 831 people — 715 passengers and 116 crew — fewer than the numbers given earlier by the coast guard and ferry owner, 2Go. He said the death toll has risen to 31 with 629 rescued.
There were foreigners on board "but they are all OK," except for a New Zealand citizen who was in a hospital, Abaya said.
Cebu coast guard chief Cmdr. Weniel Azcuna said 171 were listed as missing, but the figure would go down once the number of crew members who have been rescued are officially accounted.
Tuason said some of the missing could still be trapped inside the vessel that sank in waters about 33 meters (100 feet) deep off Talisay city in Cebu province, 570 kilometers (350 miles) south of Manila.
Tuason said navy divers recovered at least four bodies early Saturday. Reporters at the site, about two kilometers (1.25 miles) from shore, saw the bodies coated with fuel and oil that spilled from the ferry.
In a statement, 2Go said the ferry "was reportedly hit" by the cargo vessel "resulting in major damage that led to its sinking." An investigation will begin after the rescue operation, the coast guard said.
Abaya said the cargo vessel smashed into right side near the rear of the ferry which was coming from Nasipit in Agusan del Sur province in the southern Philippines and making a short stop in Cebu before proceeding to Manila.
"I guess it hit the ferry at a very vulnerable point, probably at its water line or below the water line so that it did not take long for it to sink," he said.
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