A boat carrying 189 people has capsized in the central Philippines, minutes after leaving port, the Philippine National Red Cross said Thursday.
The local Coast Guard reported that at least 36 people have died, with 118 survivors, and another 19 still missing, according to CNN Philippines. The Coast Guard said there were 173 people on board.
Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon put the number missing at 35.
The MB Nirvana had just departed Ormoc City in Leyte province bound for the town of Pilar on Camotes Island, east of Cebu, about noon local time when the disaster occurred.
The boat, which is 27 meters long, was barely 200 meters from the shore when it capsized, Philippine Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Ganet said.
He said those who have been rescued are being taken to hospitals in the area around Ormoc.
High winds, seas hamper efforts
Gordon told CNN from Manila that the boat, which could accommodate up to 193 people, had 189 on board, comprising 173 passengers, 15 crew and the boat’s owner, who he said had survived.
He said 36 people had been taken to four different hospitals.
Video footage from the scene showed people of all ages, including a small child, being brought ashore in small inflatable craft. Some of the survivors were laid on the concrete waterfront, while others were wheeled away on stretchers.
Rescue workers are battling to find those unaccounted for before it gets dark.
Gordon said Red Cross staff were on the pier in Ormoc assisting those who made it back to shore with blankets and meals.
They are trying to get divers to the scene, he said, and had hoped to put a helicopter in the air but have been prevented by “zero visibility” in poor weather conditions.
“The winds are really bad and the seas are really bad,” he said.
Investigators will examine what caused the boat to capsize.
A CNN Philippines reporter quoted the Coast Guard as saying the boat had left port too quickly and people stood up, throwing the boat off balance. Gordon said he understood the boat overturned because of high winds.
Gordon: Passengers were ‘poor folks, simple folks’
Gwendolyn Pang, secretary-general of the National Red Cross in Manila, described the vessel as a commercial “pump boat” or banka, which is essentially a canoe-style craft with outriggers that is powered by a small engine. They’re widely used across the Philippines for transporting people and goods, as well as for fishing.
Gordon said the boat would operate three times a day on the route from Ormoc to Camotes Island.
“The passengers would have been farmers or fishermen, or ordinary businessmen — common folks,” he said.
“They are not very well-off, otherwise they would be on better vessels or take the plane. But obviously, these are poor folks, simple folks who are trying to eke out an existence.”
They had probably traveled to Ormoc to buy or sell products, Gordon said.
This style of outrigger boat has no cabins, he said, which should make it easier for divers to find anyone trapped under the canopy or keel of the vessel.
Gordon said that he doubted any foreigners were involved but that Red Cross staff at the scene were checking who was on board and how many were children. Officials have also brought body bags in case they are needed, he said.
Many of these people may not even be able to afford a proper burial, he added.
It’s now monsoon season in the Philippines, which adds to the likelihood of poor weather.