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Many still missing after Philippines ferry sinks

The death toll after a ferry sank off the Philippines on Friday has risen to 31, with rescuers searching for more than 170 others. The vessel took on water rapidly, with fears that passengers were trapped inside.

Officials said the MV St Thomas Aquinas had been carrying more than 800 people when it was involved in a collision with a cargo ship off the port of Talisay City, near the country's second city of Cebu, late on Friday night.

Emergency workers rescued 629 survivors overnight, while 31 were confirmed dead and 171 were missing, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said.

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More than 30 confirmed dead

Stormy weather forced rescuers to suspend their search midafternoon on Saturday.

Rear Admiral Luis Tuason Jr. said the ferry sank some 10 minutes after the collision. "We fear that some people have been trapped inside the ferry," he told the DPA news agency.

"The vessel suffered a huge hole on its right side in the rear and as soon as the two ships separated, it took on water fast," said Tuason.

According to the 2Go Group, which owns the now-sunken vessel, the crew distributed life jackets to the passengers and carried out emergency procedures, simultaneously alerting the coastguard.

The group reported that the ship had an authorized capacity of 1,010 passengers.

Sea travel is a common form of transport in the Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. Accidents are frequent, and are often attributed to poor safety standards and overcrowding.

The country experienced the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster shortly before Christmas 1987, when a ferry collided with an oil tanker, resulting in more than 4,300 deaths.

rc/ch (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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