Three people were killed as rescuers searched for at least three others still missing with more than a hundred rescued after a ferry sank in waters off the central Philippines, officials said.

Coast guard official Joseph Coyme said on Sunday that rescue efforts would continue because it was uncertain how many passengers and crew were on the Maharlika II.

The ferry sank late on Saturday off Panaon Island in the province of Southern Leyte, after it was hit by huge waves during bad weather worsened by the approach of Typhoon Kalmaegi to the northern Philippines, civil defence officials said.

 The ferry sank off Panaon Island in Southern Leyte 

The ship took on water and went down as coast guards and private vessels rushed to pick up the survivors.

About 100 survivors have been rescued by two passing ships and another ferry deployed for rescue operations by the company that owned the Maharlika.

That figure is much more than the 58 passengers and 26 crew that the Maharlika's captain reported in the distress call to the coast guard, Coyme said.

"There are discrepancies in the numbers and we cannot terminate the search and rescue until we're sure that everybody has been accounted for,'' Coyme told the AP news agency.

With clear weather in the central provinces south of the storm, the coast guard cleared the Maharlika to leave Surigao city around noon for a regular domestic run.

The captain sent the distress call a few hours later.

Poorly-maintained, loosely-regulated ferries are the backbone of maritime travel in the sprawling archipelago of more than 7,107 islands.

But this has led to frequent accidents that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years, including the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster in 1987 when the Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, leaving more than 4,300 dead.

Source: Agencies