CORRECTED - CORRECTED-UPDATE 3-Philippine ferry sinks; 700-plus passengers m

Sun Jun 22, 2008 10:56am IST

(Amends lead to make clear most of those aboard are missing)

By Manny Mogato

MANILA, June 22 (Reuters) - A Philippine ferry with more than 700 people on board capsized during a typhoon and most are missing, officials said on Sunday.

Rescuers were trying to reach the scene where the MV Princess of Stars sank near Sibuyan island in the centre of the country but churning waves from Typhoon Fengshen made the crossing hazardous.

"The ship is upside down. We are waiting for rescuers but there are none so far. Our pump boats are all broken," Ricardo Aligno, a town councillor from the coastal village of San Fernando, told local radio.

The coast guard expected one of its ships to arrive in the area by early afternoon. The ferry sank about three kilometres from shore.

Local mayor Nanette Tansingco told radio that three survivors had been found.

But at least four others aboard are known to have died.

The bodies of two women and some childrens' slippers were washed ashore. Before dawn on Sunday, some villagers heard warning sirens from the ship, which had 626 passengers and 121 crew on board.

Dozens of relatives, some in tears, crowded into the offices of Sulpicio Lines, the ship's owner, in the central city of Cebu, looking for information.

"My father was one of the passengers. Right now there is no good news," said Lani Dakay. "My father is 59, I don't even know if he can swim."

Sulpicio Lines said it had lost contact with the ferry, which was en route to Cebu from Manila, at around 12.30 p.m. (0430 GMT) on Saturday.

"We were told that at around 5 a.m. the captain sounded the abandon ship signal," said Lieutenant-General Pedro Inserto, military commander in the Visayas, the central region of the Philippines.

"We were told the passengers and crew transferred to another ship. But we still do not know which ship," Inserto told Reuters.

WORST DISASTER

Fengshen, with maximum gusts of up to 195 kph (121 mph), tore through the centre of the archipelago on Saturday, devastating the province of Iloilo, where officials said at least 59 people had been killed in floodwaters more than two metres high in places.

"Iloilo is like an ocean. This is the worst disaster we have had in our history," Neil Tupaz told local radio, adding he feared the death toll could rise.

Tupaz said tens of thousands of people were marooned on their roofs waiting to be rescued.

In total, Fengshen has killed at least 80 people, including an 8-year-old girl and her grandfather who were buried in a "trash slide" at a rubbish dump in the southern city of Cotabato.

More than 20,000 people were being housed in evacuation centres in the centre and south of the archipelago, where the storm had triggered flashfloods, landslides and ripped up trees and power lines.

The typhoon, the sixth to hit the Philippines this year, pelted Manila with torrential rain and high winds on Sunday, triggering power outages in many parts of the capital.

The international airport was relying on generators for power and passengers continued to cram into the departure terminal despite many flights being either delayed or cancelled.

Fengshen is headed north and is expected to have exited the country by Monday en route to Taiwan, where it could make landfall in the next few days, according to storm tracker website www.tropicalstormrisk.com. (Writing by Carmel Crimmins; Additional reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by David Fogarty)

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