Death toll hits 55 in Philippines ferry disaster

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(CNN) — Philippine navy divers retrieved bodies Monday from inside a ferry that sank last week after colliding with a cargo ship.

The discovery of more victims’ remains brought the number of people confirmed dead from the disaster in the southern Philippines to 55, the Philippine Coast Guard said. Another 65 people remain missing and 750 have been rescued, it said.

The divers found the body of a child Monday near the hull of MV St. Thomas Aquinas, the sunken ferry, the official Philippines News Agency (PNA) reported.

They then managed to enter compartments of the vessel and recover more bodies, the agency said, citing Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, a navy spokesman.

But PNA reported that dive operations were suspended later in the day because of bad weather.

Another team of divers was expected to arrive within the day to help with the search and rescue efforts, Fabic said.

The collision occurred around 9 p.m. Friday in the Mactan Channel about 2 miles northwest of Cebu City, the capital of Cebu province.

Echoes of a past disaster

The St. Thomas Aquinas was coming from nearby Butuan City when the collision occurred. The cargo ship, the Sulpicio, which had about 20 people aboard, was leaving Cebu for Davao, a region on the island of Mindanao.

The passenger ferry sank, but not before sending out a distress call heard by Coast Guard officials.

The cargo vessel involved in the crash — along with navy, Coast Guard and commercial vessels — helped in the rescue efforts.

Photos from the scene showed a huge hole torn in the yellow bow of the Sulpicio.

The sinking recalls one of the worst maritime disasters in world history that took place on December 20, 1987, also off the Philippines.

Between 1,700 and more than 4,000 people were killed when the ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker in the Tablas Strait. Reports of the total number of casualties have varied; many claim the Dona Paz was extremely overcrowded.

By Jethro Mullen

CNN’s Jessica King, Kathy Quiano, Deanna Hackney and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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