MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Crew members of a Philippine ferry that sank in a tropical storm abandoned the passengers without telling them to leave the ship, a rescued police official said today.

``We were left to fend for ourselves,'' said police superintendent Napoleon Sesante, one of 311 confirmed survivors of Friday night's ferry accident. At least 39 people died.

Sesante said the Princess of the Orient's officers and crew never told passengers what was happening or what to do as huge waves and strong winds buffeted the ferry.

The ferry's skipper, Capt. Esrum Mahilum, apparently ordered his crew to abandon the ship when it began to sink but did not relay this to passengers, Sesante said.

``They didn't say anything, there were no instructions to passengers. They were irresponsible,'' Sesante told a Manila radio station.

Andrei Andresan, an attorney for Sulpicio Lines, owner of the 24-year-old ship, said reports by surviving crew members indicate the captain gave orders to people to abandon ship. But he said the crew members may have left the ship when it became impossible to save more passengers.

Rescuers used ships and helicopters to continue their search for survivors today off the coast of Cavite province, south of Manila.

On Sunday, chief accident investigator Arnie Santiago said the ship was carrying heavy materials that may not have been properly secured. ``The way the ship tilted indicates that the cargo moved,'' he told The Associated Press.

He said the sinking was unusually rapid, and some of the ship's water seals may have been damaged by a fire in 1997. However, Carlos Go, chief executive officer of Sulpicio Lines, insisted the ship was seaworthy despite that fire.

As the ship began to sink, Sesante used a cellular phone to call an aide on land, who alerted authorities to begin a rescue operation.