Rescuers continued their search for passengers of the Philippine ship MV Asia South Korea last week, after it sank in the Visayan Sea before dawn on Dec. 23, officials said. The death toll from the disaster in the central Philippines had risen to 41, they said. The National Disaster Coordinating Council said officials were still verifying the number of survivors, which was most recently reported to be 711. The 27-year-old ship, owned by Cebu-based Trans-Asia Shipping, sank in rough seas off Bantayan Island, 300 miles southeast of Manila, while on a 12-hour voyage from the central Philippine city of Cebu to the island of Iloilo. Survivors said they heard an explosion before the vessel went down in rough seas., a 63-year-old woman travelling with her husband, said she heard an explosion before the ship sank. "After an explosion, a lot of people panicked because they felt that the boat is leaning on the right side," survivor Victoria Fronteras said. "What I did was pray and I hugged my husband." She said they spent over four hours in a lifeboat before they were rescued. "Before the explosion, it seemed that the ship hit something below and then it shook," said her husband, Carlito. Officials said it was too early to say what cased the ship to sink, and added that military divers have joined the rescue efforts to help determine the cause. Defence Secretary Orlando Mercado has said the ship may have been overloaded. The ship was licenced to carry 614 passengers, apart from a crew of about 60, and the owners said a total of 658 were aboard.