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70 Die in Philippine Ferry Accident - 2003-12-22

In the Philippines, more than 70 passengers and crew aboard a missing ferry are feared dead after the coast guard received distress calls from the ship. The vessel appears to have sunk after huge waves punched a hole in the hull. The disaster comes just days after torrential rains caused landslides that may have killed some 200 people in the country's south. The Philippine coast guard says it has dispatched aircraft and two ships to search for the missing ferry, but there has been no sign of either the vessel or any of its passengers. The missing ferry was traveling to the island of Palawan in the southwestern Philippines from the Cagayan de Sulu island group. Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo says the last contact with the boat was Sunday.

He says the Coast Guard outpost at Brooke's Point received the last radio contact from the boat at around 8:45 p.m. Sunday, when the boat reportedly was leaking in the bow.

Also Monday, the Philippine air force says it has received sketchy reports that another ferry has capsized in the Pacific Ocean, around 335 kilometers east of the northern province of Isabel on Luzon island. It is not clear what type of vessel was involved or where it was.

Ferries are the main mode of transportation between islands in the Philippines, and accidents occur often because of poor vessel maintenance and overloading. The latest disaster comes just days after landslides caused by days of incessant rains buried more than 200 people on the southern islands of Leyte, Panaon and Bohol. Rescuers recovered 102 more bodies Monday, bringing the number of victims pulled from the mud and debris to 191. The final death count is expected to rise as dozens of people are still missing.

Around 100,000 people have been forced from their homes by floods and landslides. Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita says the government is working to aid the landslide victims. Mr. Eduardo Ermita says bad weather has hampered rescue and recovery efforts. He says Philippine military helicopters have not been able to travel to Leyte since Saturday.

Mr. Ermita says residents of Panaon, the hardest hit area so far, have given up hope of finding survivors and given the government permission to cover the rubble and convert it into a mass grave. A brief lull in the weather Monday allowed military ships to deliver food, medicine, and equipment to the area.