In Panama, 179 passengers rescued before boat sinks off coast

A public passenger boat sunk on its way from a small island off the Pacific coast of Panama to the mainland, but authorities said Monday they were able to rescue all 157 people aboard.

No injuries were reported. Officials from the National Maritime Authority were investigating the cause, but believed that the boat sprung a leak.

They originally said 179 passengers and six crew members were onboard, but later corrected those tallies to 150 passengers and seven crew.

The boat was headed to the capital, Panama City, from Taboga, an island about 25 kilometers (15 miles) south that is popular with both Panamanian and foreign tourists.

News media reported that the boat suffered from engine trouble, stalled, then begin to fill with water. A maritime authority spokesman said the vessel was overcrowded and should not have been carrying more than 127 passengers and three crew members.

The crew immediately sent out distress signals, prompting the arrival of a safety boat from the Panama Canal and two boats from the maritime authority. Passengers were dropped off at a pier in Panama City where the boat was supposed to have arrived.

At a news conference, maritime authority director Ruben Arosemena said that on Sept. 2 officials had ordered the boat not to sail because of its "deteriorating structural conditions." Despite those restrictions, the vessel left for Taboga on Sunday and sprung a leak on the way back to Panama that night, Arosemena said.

He said the boat operators would be severely sanctioned and that "the case has to set precedents.", AP reported.