Ferry fire kills 3 in southern Philippines; 245 rescued
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — At least three people were killed and 245 others were rescued after a fire engulfed a ferry in the southern Philippines overnight, the coast guard said Wednesday.
Search and rescue efforts were continuing after the fire on the M/V Lite Ferry 16 off Dapitan city in Zamboanga del Norte province, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said.
"We did not have any patrol ship in the area so we alerted nearby ships and boats to render assistance because it was an emergency," Balilo said by phone. "It's good that a number of ships immediately responded. We have to recognize what they did."
It was not immediately clear how many people were actually on board, a common dilemma when such sea accidents happen. The coast guard said a manifest showed the 645-ton ferry was carrying 136 passengers, including 28 children, and 36 crew members.
But it was unclear why 245 were rescued, much more than the combined number of passengers and crew, Balilo said, adding that investigators would ask the owner and ferry skipper to explain the discrepancy.
A 1-year-old girl and a 60-year-old male passenger died while at least 102 others were rescued by passing ships and boats, Balilo said. He said a third person died, but did not have any details.
It was unclear whether there were still people missing but no relatives have approached authorities to report any, and an ongoing search will continue, Balilo said.
Photos showed passengers wearing orange life vests waiting to be rescued at the loading bay of the ferry, which also carried some vehicles. Orange flames and smoke would later engulf almost the entire ferry in the darkness but the ship stayed afloat, about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off a port in Dapitan city, where it was destined.
Some passengers were quoted in local news reports as saying they jumped off the ship into the choppy waters in panic when the fire broke out and were later rescued by passing cargo and fishing vessels.
The inter-island ferry left Santander town in central Cebu province Tuesday, Balilo said. The fire apparently started in the engine room.
Meanwhile, officials warned ferries not to venture out to sea in the northern Philippines after a fast-moving storm blew across the main island of Luzon overnight. The storm weakened into a tropical depression after slamming into Aurora province late Tuesday from the Pacific. Classes were suspended and heavy rains were reported in some northern provinces, but no deaths or injuries were immediately reported.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.