At least 24 people are dead and more than 200 others missing in the central Philippines, after a passenger ferry collided with a cargo ship Friday night and quickly sank off the coast of Cebu province.

A Coast Guard spokesman, speaking early Saturday, said the manifest for the ferry St. Thomas Aquinas showed 692 passengers on board when the ferry collided with the 11,000-ton freighter Sulpico Express 7 near Cebu City.

However, the vice-commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, later told reporters the ferry was carrying 870 passengers and crew. Those numbers had not been reconciled by early Saturday.

Authorities reported a massive search operation under way and the admiral said more than 600 people had been rescued.

Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines -- a 7,100-island archipelago with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.

In the world's worst peacetime sea disaster, 4,375 passengers and crew aboard the ferry Dona Paz died in December 1987, after the vessel collided with a freighter in the Sibuyan Sea. Twenty-six people survived.