Rescuers Find Only Bodies in Ferry

MANILA, Philippines -- Still hoping for a miracle, divers wriggled into an upside-down ferry Tuesday but found only bodies three days after the vessel capsized during a powerful typhoon with more than 850 people aboard, officials said.

"Most of the bodies were floating inside. They were trapped when the seven-story ship suddenly tilted and capsized," Philippine navy spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo told dzBB radio.

He said it was possible some passengers could have survived initially, but the roiling seas from Typhoon Fengshen had kept rescuers at bay too long.

"It seems the passengers hesitated from jumping in turbulent waters," Arevalo said, because "it happened too sudden," referring to survivors' accounts of the ship quickly listing and going down in a half-hour or less.

"Apparently, only one compartment has been entered, the whole ship has not been searched," coast guard Commodore Luis Tuason said, adding that three bodies had been retrieved.

Coast guard chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said about 30 coast guard and navy divers were at the scene and that the U.S. Navy ship Stockham had arrived with frogmen and search-and-rescue helicopters.

Arevalo said the priority now is how to extricate the bodies. He said options include cutting the hull, a prospect complicated by a cargo of bunker oil that could leak and turn the human disaster into an environmental one.

Survivors said the ship suddenly tilted and went belly up Saturday at the height of the powerful storm that left 163 people dead in flooded communities in the central Philippines and caused an estimated 3.3 billion pesos ($74.2 million) in crop damage.

Only about four dozen ferry survivors have been found, including 28 who drifted at sea for more than 24 hours before they were found Sunday about 130 kilometers away.