At least 36 people are reported dead after a ferry carrying 173 passengers and 16 crew members capsized in rough waters off Ormoc City, the Philippines, at 12:50pm local time on Thursday, officials report.

Ferry carrying 173 passengers sinks in Philippines, 36 dead

Image: NewsAsia

The ferry Kim Nirvana was sailing from the port of Ormoc to the island of Camotes, when it overturned around 200 meters off shore shortly after leaving the port.

According to Ciriaco Tolibao from Ormoc' s disaster risk reduction and management office, dozens of survivors were found clinging to the hull of the capsized boat.

An extensive search and rescue operation is taking place at the accident site.

The Philippines Coast Guard reported that 26 passengers are still missing and the searching operation still continues. Up to the moment 118 have been pulled out from the water by rescue workers, who used rubber boats to take survivors to safety.

The Philippines Coast Guard rescued 118 passengers after KIM Nirvana sinking, 26 people still missing

Image: GMA

Geraldine Galleposo, the Philippines Coast Guard spokeswoman commented :

"According to initial reports, there were strong currents prevailing in the area."

The PCG also said that the captain of the Kim Nirvana turned to open sea and did not expect the high waves.

The ferry was headed to Pilar Island, which is around 14 miles from Ormoc.

According to PCG officials, the ferry was not overloaded, as it has the capacity to carry a total of 178 passengers.

Survivors said they felt the bow of the ship suddenly surged upwards, after which the boat fell to its side and started sinking.