Death toll aboard capsized ferry rises to 50 as five more bodies recovered

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Rescuers have retrieved five more bodies from a ferry 
that capsized moments after departing from a central Philippine port, raising the death toll to 
50.

The bodies were recovered hours after coastguard spokesman Armand Balilo said all 187 passengers and crew members on the MB Kim Nirvana had been accounted for.

Mr Balilo said the new bodies were found after a floating crane pulled the 36-ton wooden vessel close to shore.

The additional fatalities raised questions about the number of people believed to have been on board, and Mr Balilo said officials would recheck the number of survivors and investigate if the crew allowed people not on the manifest to board the ferry.

The vessel flipped over off Ormoc City on Thursday when it was lashed by strong waves after leaving the port en route to one of the Camotes Islands, about 20 miles south.

The captain and some of the crew were in custody pending an investigation, Mr Balilo said.

“Among the things we will look into is if there was a faulty manoeuvre, the stability of the vessel, and of course the weather,” he added.

Regional coastguard commander Pedro Tinampay told DZBB radio in Manila that the movement of cargo inside the ferry might have contributed to the accident. The ferry was carrying heavy construction materials and bags of rice.

Ormoc, a regional economic and transportation hub of about 200,000 people, is in a disaster-prone eastern region that is regularly hit tropical storms and typhoons that blow in from the Pacific.

Coastguard officials and survivors said it was not clear what caused the ferry, to overturn.

Mr Balilo said the vessel was moving out of the port on its way to Pilar township on one of the Camotes Islands, about 20 miles south, when it was lashed by strong waves and capsized.

Survivor Mary Jane Drake, who was travelling with her mother and American husband, said the ferry was pulling slowly out of the port when it suddenly flipped to the left in strong waves and overturned, trapping her and other passengers.