MANILA (UPDATE as of 5:30 p.m.) – A vessel carrying at least 57 people sank off Masbate province Friday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.
PCG spokesman Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo said 59-year-old Perlita Seña died after M/V Lady of Mt. Carmel sank off Burias Island in Claveria town at around 5 a.m.
PCG-Masbate deputy commander Bayani Benisario told ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) that aside from Seña, another person has been confirmed dead.
All 55 missing passengers have been rescued and accounted for. However, search and rescue operations continue, as authorities are still verifying reports that there were at least five passengers on board who were not included on the manifest.
The ship's captain, identified as Mateo Gregorio, was among those rescued.
PCG said, based on the passenger manifest, the vessel had 35 passengers, 22 crew members, 2 buses and a 6-wheeler truck.
The vessel left Pio Duran Port in Albay at around 2 a.m. It was headed for Aroroy, Masbate.
Balilo said rescue efforts include the release of a notice to mariners, and the deployment of local fishermen, Coast Guard personnel and local government authorities to the site of accident.
The PCG's BRP Pampanga cancelled its trip today to Indonesia to help in the search and rescue operations.
The Philippine Navy also sent a team of divers to help search for the missing people.
An islander plane and a PCG chopper were deployed to survey the waters of Masbate.
Some of the rescued passengers, meanwhile, were brought to Aroroy Heart Center for treatment.
CAUSE OF SINKING
Regional civil defense chief Raffy Alejandro said the cause of the sinking is still unknown but the ship's captain reported the vessel may have been imbalanced by the two passenger buses and a large truck it was carrying.
"He said it happened so quickly. It just went down in the darkness," Alejandro said, adding the waters and weather were calm.
The vessel was a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) ferry commonly used in the Philippines to transport people, vehicles and cargo throughout the archipelago of more than 7,100 islands.
Alejandro said the ferry was not believed to have been overloaded as it made the journey of about four hours between the two major provinces of Albay and Masbate, more than 300 kilometers southeast of Manila.
He said the ship was licensed to carry more than 200 passengers, while 57 people were listed on the manifest for Friday's trip.
Nevertheless, Balilo said that some more people were not on the list, a common practice in the Philippines, and that there may have been up to 62 on board.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippines due to poor safety standards and overloading.
The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.
In 2008, a huge ferry capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan, leaving almost 800 dead.
Alejandro expressed hope that the death toll from Friday's accident would not rise drastically, partly because the captain said most passengers were wearing life jackets.
Meanwhile, the owner of M/V Carmel denied the incident was due to mechanical failure.
Medallion Transport said the Coast Guard conducted a thorough inspection of the ferry and cleared it to sail.
The company added it is not true that one of the vehicles on board came loose.
There are speculations an unsecured vehicle caused the ferry to tilt.
"There are no truths to false statements that the incident was due to mechanical failure. There were also no lapses in lashing of the rolling cargoes because before the said vessel was allowed to sail, the PCG personnel in Pioduran, Albay had conducted thorough pre-departure safety inspection," the Medallion Transport said. -- Reports from Noel Alamar and Edwin Gadia, dzMM; Jose Caretero and Thea Omelan, ABS-CBN News Bicol; ANC; With Agence France-Presse