MANILA, Philippines // At least three people drowned and more than 800 terrified passengers, many roused from their sleep, were rescued early today from a ferry that listed then sank in the southern Philippines, officials said. More than 80 people were missing. The coastguard chief, Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, said 880 of 964 passengers and crewmen on board the Superferry 9 were transferred to two nearby commercial ships and a navy gunboat hours after the ferry began to list off Zamboanga del Norte province before dawn. A search was under way for more than 80 people who remained missing, Mr Tamayo said, adding that they may have drifted with their life jackets or have been rescued but were not yet listed as survivors. "We really hope they're just unaccounted for due to the confusion," Mr Tamayo said. Navy ships were deployed and air force helicopters scoured the seas, the Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said. He said three passengers, including a child and a man, drowned during the scramble to escape the ship. Three other passengers were injured, the coastguard said. The cause of the listing was not clear. The ferry skipper initially ordered everyone on board to abandon the ship as a precautionary step, said Jess Supan, the vice president of Aboitiz Transport System, which owns the steel-hulled ferry. There were reports that the ferry listed to the right because of a hole in the hull, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said. As the ferry tilted, some passengers may have panicked and jumped into the water, the coastguard said. The ferry left the southern port city of General Santos on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive in Iloilo city in the central Philippines later today but ran into problems midway and began to list about 15 kilometres from the nearest shore, Mr Tamayo said.