The confirmed death toll from the collision at sea in Cebu rose to 75 on Thursday as divers pulled out more bodies, including those of children, from the sunken wreck, authorities said.
Despite finding only corpses in recent days, Navy and Coast Guard ships and helicopters continued to scour the waters for the 45 still missing from the St. Thomas Aquinas ferry, said local Coast Guard commander Weniel Azcuna.
“We are still hoping to find more survivors but we are realistic and we expect we will find more dead bodies,” Azcuna told AFP.
The ferry sank quickly after it collided with a cargo ship off Cebu City on Friday night. A total of 750 passengers and crew out of the 870 on board were rescued.
Azcuna said divers were still searching the debris-choked vessel, and declined to set a date for when the operation would end.
The new toll was up by four from Wednesday.
The Coast Guard, military and police are meanwhile helping clean up a large oil spill from the ferry, which has reached the coasts of nearby towns and affected mangrove forests, rich fishing grounds and sanctuaries as well as popular beach resorts, Azcuna said.
Specialized divers from Japan, hired by ferry operator 2Go Travel, had been conducting surveys to plug the leak and contain the spill, he added.
Azcuna said 2Go had also contracted with a salvage company which was spraying chemical dispersant on the spilled oil. He could not say how much oil had already leaked out.
The doomed ferry was carrying 120,000 liters (32,000 gallons) of bunker fuel when it sank, according to the Coast Guard.