Rescue teams mounted a search Sunday for 18 people, including a town mayor, reported missing after their ferry sank after being buffeted by big waves in the southern Philippines, officials said. Fourteen bodies have been recovered.
Surigao provincial governor Lyndon Barbers said 65 people were rescued by a passing boat and coast guard personnel in the waters where the motor boat Leonida II capsized Saturday afternoon off Hinatuan island, about 444 miles southeast of Manila.
The wooden-hulled ferry, which was also carrying 300 sacks of cement and 18 sacks of rice, ran into large waves that damaged its bamboo outrigger, which provides balance to the vessel, and caused the boat to sink, Barbers told The Associated Press by telephone.
A passing boat, the MV Sofia, rescued passengers and crewmen who jumped off the Leonida II. Coast guard personnel rescued another passenger off Hinatuan early Sunday, Barbers said.
The Leonida II was headed to Del Carmen town on Siargao Island from Surigao City when it encountered rough seas and rain. There was no major storm in the area but the weather rapidly turned bad in the area where the vessel passed, coast guard officials said.
Among those missing was Del Carmen town Mayor Arlyn Navarro and a councilor from another Surigao town, Barbers said.
"This is so unfortunate a tragedy because the people were already looking up to Christmas," said Barbers as he visited an emergency center in Surigao city where the bodies of seven passengers were taken to be claimed by relatives.
Barbers said he has asked the navy to send deep-sea divers and may ask the air force to help in the search and rescue.
Boat accidents happen frequently in the Philippines because many ferries, a key mode of transport in the archipelago, are old and poorly maintained, while enforcement of safety regulations is weak.