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9 Dead, Many Missing in Philippines Ferry Sinking

A ferry carrying more than 900 people sank in the southern Philippines Sunday. Most of the passengers have been rescued, but some people are still missing and at least nine have died.

The Philippine Coast Guard says it received a distress call from Superferry 9 early Sunday morning local time, when the ship started listing to its starboard side. The captain ordered passengers and crew to abandon ship about an hour later. The vessel sank around 10 a.m. local time, off Siocon Bay in Zamboanga del Norte province.

The vessel left General Santos City in the southern island of Mindanao Saturday morning bound for Iloilo City in the central Philippines. It carried 847 passengers and 117 crew members.

Hundreds Rescued

The Philippine Coast Guard said passing ships and the Philippine Navy rescued more than 800 people. Philippines Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Edgard Arevalo said, "Most of them when retrieved or plucked out from the water were having difficulty breathing and most of them were weak. There is an urgent need for medical personnel to attend to their needs, as well as drinking water."

U.S. military helicopters deployed in military exercises in the southern Philippines assisted the Philippine Air Force and Navy in the search and rescue operations. A U.S. military support vessel with medical personnel on board has also been dispatched to the site.

Cause Of Accident Unknown

Coast guard officials said it is still not clear what caused the ferry to list and said an investigation will be conducted as soon as rescue operations are over. The weather in the area was reported clear at that time, although a tropical storm lashed the northernPhilippines.

The Philippines has one of the worst maritime safety records in Asia. Many Filipinos rely on ferries to travel between islands in the Philippines, but accidents are common especially during the monsoon season. Last year, some 800 people died when a ferry capsized in rough seas.