At least two people have died and more than a hundred rescued after a ferry sank off the coast of the central Philippines, the country's  coast guard said.

The Maharlika II ferry lost control and was carried away by waves on Saturday, forcing those onboard to abandon ship off the island of Leyte, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said in a statement.

Three ships, including a foreign-registered liquefied petroleum gas carrier, rushed to the area and were able to pick up survivors, officials told the AFP news agency.

"Rescue boats had trouble reaching them because the waves were really huge," government spokeswoman Mina Marasigan said.

The ferry had reported "problems with steering" and had also been buffeted by heavy rains, worsened by Typhoon Kalmaegi which is approaching the northern Philippines, she said.

A coast guard report earlier said that the vessel was stricken 680km south of Manila.

Although only 84 passengers and crew were listed on the manifest,  many more had boarded the ship.

"We are not sure how many are still missing because it now appears there were more people on board,"  coast guard official, Armand Balilo, told reporters. 

Accidents at sea are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

In 2008, the ferry MV Princess of the Stars capsized during a typhoon in the central Philippines, killing nearly 800 people.

Source: Agencies