MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A fire broke out on a ferry in southern Philippines that raged overnight for eight hours, killing at least 31 of about 250 passengers and crew, officials said Thursday.
Many of the more than 200 people who survived the fire jumped from the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea by the Coast Guard, the Navy, a nearby ferry and local fishermen, said Gov. Jim Hataman of the southern island province by Basilan. Rescuers were still looking for at least seven missing people Thursday, he said.
Hataman said the burned ferry was towed to the Basilan coast, where the bodies of 18 of the 31 victims were discovered in a budget area of the passenger cabin.
“These victims died as a result of the fire on board,” Hataman said over the phone. He said there may have been more people on the ferry not listed on the manifest.
However, the ferry’s skipper told coastguard officials he was trying to run the burning ferry aground on the nearest bank so more people could survive or be rescued, said regional coastguard commander Rejard Marfe. The fire raged for about eight hours, he said.
The ferry was traveling from the southern port city of Zamboanga to the city of Jolo in Sulu province when it caught fire off Basilan around midnight, Hataman said. At least 23 passengers were injured and taken to hospitals.
“Some of the passengers were woken up by the excitement caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Hataman said.
The steel-hulled ferry could hold up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, Marfe said. According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a crew of 35, he said. It also had a security contingent consisting of four Coast Guard marshals and an unspecified number of soldiers who were not listed for their protection, Marfe said.
He said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, whether there were any passengers not listed on the manifest and whether the crew had properly escorted the passengers to safety.
Maritime casualties are common in the Philippines due to frequent storms, poorly maintained vessels, overcrowding and patchy enforcement of safety regulations, particularly in remote provinces.
In December 1987, the Dona Paz ferry sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
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