Philippine officials say the coast guard has launched a search and rescue operation after an inter-island ferry with more than 50 passengers and crew began listing and is feared to have sunk off a central province.

Office of Civil Defense director Blanche Gobenciong says the skipper of the M/V Maharlika II ordered its passengers and crew to abandon the ferry late Saturday after it began to list in choppy waters off Southern Leyte province. She received a report that the Maharlika later sank and that a passing ship rescued some of the passengers and crew but said those reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Regional military spokesman Lt. Jim Alagao says initial reports showed the ferry with 32 passengers and 26 crewmen stalled due to a steering problem and then began to list.