Philippine authorities said Monday they had abandoned hope of finding alive seven people missing from a ferry which sank last week with dozens on board, after three days of searching in strong currents.
Rescuers recovered two bodies from the sea and rescued 61 others after the Lady of Mount Carmel went down Friday off the coast of central Masbate island, more than 300 kilometres southeast of Manila.
Regional civil defence chief Raffy Alejandro said divers had not been able to reach the sunken ferry, believed to be lying on the seabed 1,300 feet (396 metres) under water.
"We are shifting from rescue to retrieval. We will search only if someone spots something floating near the coastline," he told reporters. He said they had also withdrawn some of the search and rescue vessels.
The ferry mysteriously sank in calm weather before dawn on Friday about two kilometres (1.2 miles) from Burias island.
Alejandro said the sunken ship was in water too deep to be reached by navy divers so it could not be determined if any bodies were trapped inside.
Coast guard officials originally refused to give up hope for the missing, believing they could have swum or drifted to nearby islands.
But Alejandro said the decision to end rescue efforts was made due to lack of progress and signs of impending bad weather.
The sinking of the ferry has raised questions as it came apparently in clear weather and smooth seas. Survivors are also reported to have accused the crew of not attending to them as the ship was sinking.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippines due to poor safety standards and overloading.
The world's deadliest peacetime maritime disaster occurred near Manila in 1987 when a ferry laden with Christmas holidaymakers collided with a small oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people.