MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ President Corazon Aquino ordered the nation's largest domestic shipping firm closed Wednesday while the government inspects its crews and ships after accidents that killed thousands of people.

Officials of the company, Sulpicio Lines, Inc., said the indefinite closing was unfair and would disrupt shipping across the island nation.

The order came nine days after Sulpicio's Dona Marilyn ferry sank during a typhoon with about 500 people aboard. In December, another Sulpicio ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker and sank. The official death toll of that accident was about 1,500, but some estimates have said more than 3,000 people may have died.

''Since Sulpicio is beset by these accidents, we would like to have a closer look at their operations,'' Secretary of Transportation Reinerio Reyes said.

Reyes told reporters Mrs. Aquino was aware of the ship shortage in the Philippines and ordered the inspection of Sulpicio's vessels be completed as soon as possible.

''The main reason is we want to prevent loss of lives,'' Reyes said. ''We want to make sure (the ships) are seaworthy and manned by competent crews.''

Sulpicio operates 22 passenger and cargo vessels, which account for 20 percent of domestic sea traffic among the country's 7,200 islands.

In the central Philippine city of Cebu, hub of the country's domestic shipping, Sulpicio's president and general manager, Carlos Go, said he was unaware of the order.

''It's bad for the public because they have fewer vessels to ride,'' Go said. He refused further comment.

Go's brother Eusebio, the company's executive vice president, said the order was unnecessary and unfair.

''They can inspect the ships without suspending the operations,'' he said. Sulpicio officials were to appear before the Maritime Industry Authority, a Department of Transportation agency, on Thursday to show why the company's operations should not be suspended.

Reyes said he recommended to Mrs. Aquino that Sulpicio be temporarily closed so its ships could be inspected and their crews' qualifications tested.

''The president agreed that this was the right step to take,'' he said, adding that the company's franchise could be if widespread deficiencies were found.

Before Reyes met with Mrs. Aquino, his department issued orders holding four Sulpicio ships in port because they allegedly had inadequate communications equipment.

The search for victims of the Dona Marilyn sinking is still going on. Like the Dona Paz, it has been difficult to determine the number of victims because of confusion over how many people were aboard.

The Dona Marilyn sailed Oct. 23 from Manila for the Leyte island port of Tacloban, despite warnings that Typhoon Ruby was approaching.

Vicente Gambito, vice president of Sulpicio Lines, said 161 passengers and 39 crewmen were rescued after it sank about 300 miles southeast of Manila.

He said at least 76 people were confirmed dead but only 54 bodies had been recovered.

Sulpicio said the manifest showed about 487 passengers and crew, but the ship radioed after leaving Manila that it was carrying 517 people. The coast guard in Manila said it counted 491 people before the ship left Manila.