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Philippine ferry sinking kills 39

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A ferry has capsized during a freak storm in the central Philippines, leaving 39 people dead, police say.

The inter-island ferry carrying more than 100 commuters overturned in strong winds off the island of Masbate, south-east of the capital, Manila.

Officials say 76 people have been rescued, and a search is under way between Masbate and Luzon islands.

The ferry had been sailing for about 20 minutes in clear weather when a sudden gust caused it to keel over.

"The Don Dexter Kathleen capsized due to a freak accident," AFP news agency quoted senior police superintendent Ruben Sindac as saying. "It was hit by a high wind despite fair weather and calm waters."

The ferry had 119 passengers and crew on its manifest, but Supt Sindac said he would not rule out the possibility that more people were on board.

The bodies of the victims were taken to Dimasalang town, about 5 km (three miles) from the accident site, where wailing people began looking for missing loved ones.

Maritime accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago due to tropical weather, badly maintained passenger boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

Hundreds of people were killed in June, when a 23,000 tonne ferry - Princess of the Stars - capsized during a typhoon off the central island of Sibuyan.

Only 57 passengers and crew of the 850 people aboard survived the accident, making it the worst maritime disaster in the Philippines for 20 years.

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