Philippines is set to call off ferry search

MANILA Sun Jul 15, 2007 2:20am EDT

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MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is likely to call off the search for bodies from a sunken passenger ferry after military divers found no corpses in the hull, an army official said on Sunday.

At least 11 people are known to have died when the Blue Water Princess sank on Thursday off San Francisco town in central Quezon province, about 150 km (90 miles) south of Manila, as it sought a safe haven in bad weather.

No one is sure how many passengers were on board but divers, after first saying there many bodies trapped in the submerged vessel, found nothing on resuming the search at dawn on Sunday.

"They entered the cabin and cargo vehicles of the sunken ship. No casualties inside," Lieutenant-Colonel Rhoderick Parayno said in a mobile phone text message to reporters.

At least 124 people were rescued and five people were formally listed as missing. The bodies of three passengers, including a child, washed ashore on Friday.

Parayno said the military was likely to halt retrieval operations tomorrow after talks with disaster officials.

Ferries of all descriptions ply the waters between the Philippines' 7,000-plus islands and safety standards are often lax. Overcrowding is common and so are accidents.

In December 1987, a ferry sank after colliding with a tanker in the Sibuyan Sea in the central Philippines, killing about 4,400 people.

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