A Philippine ferry carrying 189 passengers and crew has capsized near the port of Ormoc City, killing at least 38 people.

According to the Philippine Coast Guard, 134 people survived and 15 are still missing.

The vessel, Kim Nirvana, reportedly overturned in rough waters off the coast of Leyte in the central Philippines.

Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo said that the ship slowly tilted when panicked passengers crowded on the right side of the ferry.

Balilo was quoted by Reuters as saying: "The ferry was carrying cement and rice but it didn’t appear to be overloaded."

"The ferry was carrying cement and rice but it didn’t appear to be overloaded."

Kim Nirvana ferry was travelling from the port of Ormoc City to the central islands of Camotes in the Cebu province, to the south-west of Leyte.

A formal marine casualty investigation will commence once rescue operations are completed; however, preliminary checks indicatethat the accident was a result of human error, the news agency reported.

Balilo added that the captain of the Kim Nirvana has survived and will undergo investigation.

Filipinos use ferry services to travel around its thousands of islands, but the poorly maintained and loosely regulated ferries often encounter similar tragedies.

In September last year, a ferry sank in the waters off Panaon Island in the Southern Leyte province, killing three people. More than 100 passengers were rescued.

In August 2013, a passenger ferry named MV Thomas Aquinas sunk after colliding with cargo ship MV Sulpicio Express 7 near the central Philippine port of Cebu, killing at least 114 people.