Image: Overturned ferry
Philippine National Red Cross Masbate via AP
A ferry, its belly protruding from the sea, lies off an island in Dimasalang, Philippines, on Wednesday after overturning in a storm.
updated 11/5/2008 3:21:27 PM ET 2008-11-05T20:21:27

Philippine investigators on Wednesday detained the captain of a crowded ferry that overturned in freak weather, drowning 42 passengers, on suspicion of operating the vessel illegally.

Some 100 people were rescued and eight were missing after the wooden-hulled Don Dexter Cathlyn was battered by winds and waves Tuesday shortly after leaving port in central Masbate island for nearby Sorsogon province, officials said.

Victims included 12 children and a mother who lost her husband a week ago and died with her only child, said Masbate police chief Reuben Sindac.

"There was this deep sense of sadness in the whole town last night," he said.

Sindac said the captain, Dante Bombales, was taken into custody. Authorities also were looking for the owner.

"That ferry was operating illegally," he said.

Although the ferry left port in relatively clear weather, coast guard chief of staff Capt. Efren Evangelista said it did not have the required clearance and may have been overloaded.

"The coast guard should have inspected it and prevented it from leaving if it found violations," he said. "In this case, the operator of the ship did not inform us it was leaving port."

Bombales denied the accusations. Speaking on the radio station DZBB, he said the ferry was not overloaded and that he informed the coast guard before leaving port. He blamed the accident on the weather, saying it suddenly turned nasty a half-hour into the voyage.

He said life jackets were on board, but the ship overturned so fast that passengers did not have time to put them on.

Weather forecaster Prisco Nilo said the ship was likely hit by a sudden monsoon squall, caused by a thunderstorm.

"Winds were blowing in all directions and the waves suddenly grew wild," Sindac said. "It happened just in a few seconds. Bang, bang, and the ship was down. The passengers didn't even have any time to move."

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of tropical weather, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

The typhoon-prone country was the scene of the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster when the ferry Dona Paz sank in 1987, killing more than 4,341 people.

In June, the 23,800-ton Princess of the Stars overturned during a typhoon close to Romblon province, near Masbate, killing more than 800 people on board.

The discovery of several drums of toxic chemicals held up the retrieval of bodies inside the ship until last week. The chemicals have been removed by marine experts.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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