Reports of casualties after ferry capsizes off Philippines coast

Rescue operations were hampered by bad weather and huge waves

Reports of casualties after ferry capsizes off Philippines coast

Image: Google Maps

Casualties have been reported after a ferry carrying 251 people capsized off the Philippines coast.

The accident happened off the town of Real about 70 km east of Manila as the vessel sailed to the island of Polillo in rough weather.

Coastguard spokesman Armand Balilo said: "We have heard there were casualties, but we're still validating."

He said the coastguard were coordinating a massive rescue operation that included military helicopters and sea vessels.

Four bodies have been retrieved from the water as well as several survivors, radio station DZMM reported from the scene

Student Donel Mendiola, one of the survivors, told the station by telephone: "The wind suddenly picked up and the boat was forced to stop when the bow started taking in water.

"Passengers ran to the side just before it tipped over.

"Some of us swam, but I saw some old people who were apparently already dead."

Rescue operations were hampered by bad weather and huge waves caused by tropical storm Tembin.

The government has advised Filipinos planning to return home for Christmas to do so earlier than usual to avoid heavy weather forecast in the days leading up to the holiday period.

A tropical storm is forecast to hit the southern island of Mindanao late on Thursday or early Friday.

The weather bureau has warned of extensive flooding and landslides as the storm, with winds of 65km/h approaching the Philippines.

The Philippines, which is archipelago of more than 7,000 islands on the Pacific typhoon belt, has a history of poor sea transport with poorly regulated ships and boats that are often overloaded.

The latest accident comes 30 years to the day after another Philippine ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker.

More than 4,000 people were killed in what became the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.