December 16, 2008 | Dave Janney

A Philippine Ferry Capsizes, Killing at Least 23 on Board

MANILA — At least 23 people drowned and 33 others were missing after an overloaded passenger ferry capsized off a northern Philippine province, the coast guard said Monday.

The authorities said they recovered 23 victims, who drowned after huge waves overturned the Maejan, a ferry carrying 102 passengers, just 200 feet off the shoreline of Cagayan Province, north of Manila, on Sunday morning. Most of the survivors managed to swim to shore.

Officials said the area of the tragedy was known for its large waves and rough current. The Associated Press quoted Joseph Llopis, the mayor of Calayan Island, as saying that hours before the ferry capsized, “three children fell into the sea as the vessel was lashed by huge waves.” One of the dead was a 1-year-old.

Mr. Llopis said many of the victims were traveling to the mainland to buy food for Christmas. “There’ll be no festive mood,” the mayor said, according to The A.P. “Many of the dead were breadwinners.”

The coast guard said in a statement that the Maejan was buffeted by “big waves and strong current until it was dragged and capsized.” The local police said that the ferry was entering the mouth of the Cagayan River when it capsized. Rescue boats and small planes were dispatched to look for survivors.

Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo, chief of the Philippine Coast Guard, said that the Maejan was authorized to carry only 50 passengers and that criminal charges would be filed against its owners for overloading the ferry.

Accidents at sea are common in the Philippines, particularly toward the end of the year, when the monsoon season peaks.

Last month, a passenger ferry capsized in the central Philippines after being struck by strong winds. More than 40 people were killed.

In June, the Princess of the Stars, a passenger ship with 850 passengers and crew members, sank in the central Philippines after being lashed by a typhoon. Only 57 people survived; the authorities are still trying to recover bodies.

The world’s worst sea disaster since World War II occurred in the central Philippines, in December 1987, when the passenger ship Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.

Apart from negligence and the unsafe state of many passenger vessels, storms and typhoons play a crucial role in these accidents. About 20 storms and typhoons batter the Philippines every year.

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