About 240 others were plucked alive from the rough sea by navy and coast guard personnel and a flotilla of fishing boats
Philippines ferry sinking: 4 dead, 7 missing, 240 rescued
At least four people were killed and 88 other left missing when a Philippine inter-island ferry with 258 passengers and crew, including Christmas holiday travellers, sank on Thursday after being battered by fierce winds and big waves off the country's north-east coast.
Two women and two men died, Quezon officials said.
About 240 were plucked alive from the rough sea by navy and coast guard personnel and a flotilla of fishing boats after the M/V Mercraft 3 sank in the Polillo Strait between the town of Infanta in Quezon province and the ferry's destination, Polillo island, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said.
A survivor, Donel Jade Mendiola, told DZMM radio that bad weather briefly delayed the ferry's departure, but the weather improved and the vessel then left from the Quezon town of Real. Strong winds and large waves started to lash it about two hours into the trip, he said.
"The vessel came to a halt and started taking in water in the front side. The passengers dashed to one side and the ferry started to sink, " Mr Mendiola said. He said the passengers were instructed to don life vests.
Coast guard boats, navy vessels and fishing boats rescued 166 people, including many who were floating in the rough sea, Mr Balilo said, adding that the ferry could carry 286 people and apparently wasn't overcrowded.
Among the survivors taken to a Quezon hospital was a 61-year-old Australian identified by authorities as Roland Kempt, who lives in the Philippines, the coast guard said in a statement.
He said rescue efforts would continue despite rough waves and nightfall. He added that a coast guard helicopter had tried to fly to the area but was hampered by the strong winds.
Many of those rescued were taken to Dinahican village in Infanta, where Quezon officials were transporting clothes, food, water and medicine, said Juanito Diaz, who heads Quezon's disaster response agency.
Frequent storms, badly maintained vessels and weak enforcement of safety regulations have been blamed for past accidents at sea in the Philippines, including on December 20, 1987, when the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.