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Outbound and incoming ships are assigned separate routes in the narrow channel leading to the busy Cebu pier. It is not known if one of the vessels strayed into the wrong lane, coast guard officials said.

“There was probably a non-observance of rules,” Melad told a news conference in Cebu on Sunday, but he said the investigation will start after the search and rescue work ends.

Associated Press writers Jim Gomez, Joeal Calupitan, Oliver Teves, Teresa Cerojano and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.