A passenger ferry sank in the northern Philippines in a second sea disaster in three days. The bodies of three children were recovered and 22 people were missing Sunday.

Search-and-rescue teams rescued 63 passengers and crew of the MV Baleno-9 and were scouring the seas for others still unaccounted for, coast guard officials said.

Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo quoted survivors as saying the ship took in water from the bow ramp, causing it to list before going under near Verde Island off Batangas province, south of Manila, late Saturday.

Tamayo said a coast guard vessel found the bodies of three children.

The crew may have neglected to inspect the ship's doors before setting sail and some may have been left open, said Elena Bautista, head of the Maritime Industry Authority.

Transport and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza ordered the immediate suspension of operations of the ferry's owner, Besta Shipping Lines.

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

On Christmas Eve, a wooden-hulled ferry with 73 people on board collided with a fishing vessel near the mouth of Manila Bay. Twenty-four people remain missing.

Three bodies and 46 survivors have been recovered from that accident, which prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to suspend operations of the companies involved in the collision.

Officials suspected Thursday's accident was likely caused by human error, but a formal inquiry was expected to begin Monday.

Last year, a ferry overturned after sailing toward a powerful typhoon in the central Philippines, killing more than 800 people on board.

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.