Death Toll Rises to 15 in Philippines Ferry Sinking

The bodies of a child and two other victims of a Phillipine ferry sinking washed ashore Friday, raising the death toll to 15 as strong waves prevented divers from recovering corpses spotted inside the sunken vessel, officials said.

The inter-island MV Blue Water Princess ferry tilted and sank about 500 yards from San Francisco town in Quezon province during a storm early Thursday.

The army counted at least 129 survivors in San Francisco and nearby San Andres town, 140 miles southeast of Manila, said regional army spokesman Lt. Col. Rhoderick Parayno.

Three bodies washed ashore early Friday taking the tally of recovered bodies to 15, Parayno said, without giving other details.

Divers attempting to search the ferry's interior "saw many dead bodies insides," he said, adding that rain at the site was hindering operations. "They can't start the recovery due to strong waves."

The number of people on board the vessel when it sank was not clear.

Henry Buzar, a disaster relief coordinator in Quezon province, told Radio DZBB that the passenger manifest did not include all the people inside trucks, buses and other vehicles on board the ferry.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the coast guard and the Department of Transportation and Communication to investigate the incident as she expressed her sympathies for the families of those who died.

The coast guard said it will convene a special board of inquiry.

Arroyo also urged authorities to remind sea vessels to heed weather forecasts and assure passenger safety and welfare at all times.

San Francisco Mayor Ernani Tan quoted survivors and crew as saying 14 trucks tilted to one side of the vessel in rough waters spawned by strong monsoon winds.

"The vehicles caused imbalance in the ship," he said.

Two vessels have been placed on standby to deal with a possible oil spill from the ferry, coast guard chief Adm. Damian Carlos said.