MANILA, Philippines – Deep-sea divers searched Saturday for a sunken ferry and 24 missing people after it collided with another vessel and went down on Christmas Eve.
Search-and-rescue teams, backed by six government ships and three aircraft, have combed a 20-nautical-mile radius of Manila Bay since Thursday, but the ferry has yet to be located, the head of the Philippine coast guard said.
Three bodies and 46 survivors were recovered hours after MV Catalyn B, a wooden-hulled ferry with 73 people on board, collided with the 369-ton fishing vessel Anathalia before dawn Thursday near the mouth of Manila Bay. No additional bodies have been found since.
Coast guard officials say many passengers were sleeping and had no time to get life vests on and many of the missing may have been trapped inside.
The 79-ton ferry was traveling from the capital, Manila, to southwest Mindoro Island with passengers returning home for Christmas.
Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, the coast guard chief, told The Associated Press divers were looking for the vessel and hoped to conduct deep-sea searches for bodies once they locate the wreckage.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Friday ordered the owners of the ferry and fishing boat involved in the collision to suspend operations of all their vessels.
Officials say the accident was likely caused by human error, but a formal inquiry is expected to begin Monday.
Sea accidents are common in the archipelago because of tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.
Last year, a ferry overturned after sailing toward a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines, killing more than 800 people.
In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.