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Death toll from Philippine ferry disaster hits 64

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A Philippine Coast Guard ship (L) and navy patrol boat (C) anchored next to a damaged cargo ship on August 17, 2013 after it collided with the ferry St. Thomas Aquinas near the central city of Cebu. The confirmed death toll from the ferry disaster rose to 64 on Tuesday as more bodies were found, some of them inside the sunken ship itself.AFP/File

The confirmed death toll from a ferry disaster in the Philippines rose to 64 on Tuesday as more bodies were found, some of them inside the sunken ship itself.

Boats searching nearby islands for survivors found only the dead, while divers pulled out more bodies from the waters off the central island of Cebu, where the St Thomas Aquinas ferry collided with a cargo ship on Friday night and quickly sank.

Many of the remaining 56 people still missing from the disaster are believed to have drowned with their bodies still trapped in the ship's interior, Cebu coastguard commander Weniel Azcuna said.

"We found more bodies in nearby islands. We found around nine inside the vessel," he told AFP.

Strong currents and bad weather as well as the difficulty of reaching the sunken ferry, lying at a depth of about 30 metres (98 feet) has slowed down recovery efforts, he said.

But the divers will be back under water Wednesday morning even as government boats and aircraft search the seas in hope of finding anyone either alive or dead, he said, adding: "We're still optimistic. We're not losing hope."

Over 200 military, coastguard and police are also helping mop up a large oil spill that has leaked from the sunken ferry, polluting valuable mangroves, fishing grounds and popular beach resorts.