MANILA (Reuters) - A ferry with at least 84 passengers and crew onboard sank on Saturday off the coast of central Philippines after a mechanical problem, and authorities said they were searching for at least 21 passengers who were still missing.
Three ships, including a foreign-registered liquefied petroleum gas carrier, rushed to the area where the ferry sank near the coast of Southern Leyte province and rescued 63 people, coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo told Reuters.
An order to abandon the ship, MV Maharlika 2, was given at around 9:00 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) when it was buffeted by strong winds and huge waves hours after developing engine trouble in the late afternoon, he said.
"We have ongoing rescue operations," Balilo said. "We don't have any idea yet if there are casualties."
The ship's manifest listed 26 crew and 58 passengers, he said.
"At 5:30 p.m., we received a distress call that Maharlika 2 was dead on the water," Balilo said.
Southern Leyte Governor Roger Mercado told Reuters authorities were verifying eyewitness reports that around 100 people boarded the ferry, more than the 84 people listed on the ship's manifest.
Scores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety. Overcrowding is common, and many of the vessels are in bad condition.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco and Manuel Mogato, Editing by Rosalind Russell)