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Death toll rises in Philippines ferry sinking

The number of people confirmed dead after a ferry accident in the Philippines has risen to 37, with scores of people still missing. Authorities say the chances of finding any more survivors are now very slim.

The Philippines military and coastguard said on Sunday that divers had retrieved several bodies from the ferry MV St Thomas Aquinas, which sank on Friday after colliding with a cargo ship off the port of Cebu province. This brings the confirmed death toll to 37, with another 82 still missing.

The number of missing was cut drastically from 171 after different tallies were reconciled with one another.

Revised figures from the disaster management office say the ferry was carrying 870 people when it collided with the cargo ship MV Sulpico Express 7. The coastguard said all 38 crew on the cargo ship were unharmed, while 751 passengers from the ferry had been rescued.

No new survivors have been found in the past 24 hours, but authorities said there was still a very slim chance that more people might still be alive.

Oil leaking

Stormy weather hampered search and rescue operations both on Saturday and on Sunday. Divers have also found it dangerous to enter the ferry, which is lying is at a depth of about 30 meters (98 feet).

Authorities said fuel oil was leaking from the sunken vessel and that emergency workers were using chemical dispersal methods to try and break up the slick. Several shorelines have been affected by the oil.

The two ships were passing through a notorious narrow channel when the accident took place. It remains unclear whether one or both of the vessels failed to observe maritime regulations.

Accidents at sea are common in the Philippines because of poor safety standards and frequent overloading.

tj/pfd (AFP, dpa)