One person was killed and 153 were missing after disaster struck the 877 passengers and crew about an hour into their overnight journey from Manila to Bacolod in the central part of this nation of islands.
"We climbed down on a nylon cord and swam to the nearest fishing boat," said Jetro Restiza, one of 43 marine engineering students who were training on the ferry. "Our instinct was to save ourselves and jump from the ship," he added.
Still clutching orange life vests and wearing their night clothes, dozens of survivors separated from relatives in the chaos had tearful reunions on shore as others waited anxiously.
Small fishing boats came to
Coast Guard officials would not speculate on the potential death toll but said the number of missing was likely to fall as more rescue ships returned to port from the mouth of Manila Bay.
Eleven people were hurt, including several with severe burns.
Dozens of small fishing boats plucked people from the choppy water as Coast Guard, navy and cargo ships raced through the darkness to the stricken ferry.
"We were already lying down to sleep when we heard a loud bang," said Mary Jane Silverio, who was travelling with her sister, on the deck of a Coast Guard ship.
"We ran like everyone else to the lower part of the ship. Some jumped over the side, but I did not."
"We were already lying down to sleep when we heard a loud bang"
Mary Jane Silverio,
There was no hint the Super Ferry 14 was overloaded - a common cause of maritime disasters in the Philippines in the past - as it had a capacity of 1,126 passengers, according to details on the website of the owners WG&A.
Billed as the "festival" ship, the ferry entered service in October 2000 and featured a beauty parlour, business centre, dining salons and a karaoke room.
Maritime accidents are relatively common in the Philippines, a country of more than 7,000 islands linked by networks of passenger ferries and cargo ships.
In the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster, more than 4,300 people died in a collision between the ferry Dona Paz and an oil tanker in Philippine waters just before Christmas 1987.