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Boat sinks in northern Philippines, 23 dead

MANILA (Reuters) - At least 23 people drowned and 26 were missing after a motorboat capsized in high seas off the northern Philippines, officials said on Monday.

Nearly 50 people survived the accident, coast guard commander Wilfredo Tamayo told reporters, adding some were rescued by fishermen from northern Cagayan province.

The boat had left Calayan island at 9:30 a.m. [0130 GMT] on Sunday, but failed to reach Aparri town in Cagayan province, around 400 km north of Manila, as expected at noon.

“It was because of strong currents between Calayan and Aparri,” Melchito Castro, regional director of the government’s disaster coordinating body told reporters.

Coast guard, navy and air force troops have been dispatched to help in the search and rescue operation, Castro said.

Gale warnings were dispatched to coastal towns prior to the ferry sinking, Castro said, as tropical storm Dolphin entered Philippine territory.

The typhoon, currently centred off southeastern Catanduanes, is forecast to move slowly northwest, but not expected to hit land, the weather bureau said.