UPDATE 1 — Ferry carrying 251 people sinks off the northern Philippines

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A ferry carrying 251 people is sinking after it capsized off an island in the northern Philippines, killing at least 4 people with no word on the fate of dozens of other passengers, local officials say. Search and rescue operations are continuing.

The ferry, identified as the MV Mercraft 3, was heading to Polillo island off Luzon island when it encountered severe weather and high waves, causing it to capsize. The vessel had left the town of Real in Quezon province at about 8:30 a.m. local time on Thursday.

The inter-island route between Real and Polillo island is about 38 kilometers (23 miles) long. The coast guard said a total of 251 people are believed to have been on board, well below the vessel’s maximum capacity of 286.

Four bodies had been recovered as of late Thursday afternoon, according to a Coast Guard spokesman. He added that at least 166 people had been rescued, but there was no immediate word on the fate of the other 81 people.

Coast guard boats, fishing vessels, and army helicopters were all taking part in the rescue operation.

Accidents at sea are fairly common in the Philippines due to severe weather, poor maintenance and weak enforcement of safety regulations. As many as 800 people were killed in June 2008 when the ferry MV Princess of the Stars capsized and sank off San Fernando during a powerful typhoon.

The world’s worst ever peacetime maritime disaster also occurred in the Philippines. An estimated 4,341 people were killed in December 1987 when the passenger ferry MV Dona Paz collided with the oil tanker MT Vector in the Tablas Strait, not far from the central province of Marinduque.

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