Search and rescue operations continue for at least seven missing passengers who were on board the ferry.
A ferry carrying about 250 passengers and crew has caught fire in the southern Philippines and 31 people drowned or died in the blaze and were discovered later, according to a provincial governor.
Many of those rescued had jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 on Wednesday in panic at the height of the fire and were plucked from the sea by the coastguard, navy, another ferry and local fishermen, Governor Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan said on Thursday. The search and rescue effort was continuing for at least seven missing passengers.
The burned ferry was towed to Basilan’s shoreline, where coastguard personnel and other authorities later discovered 18 more bodies in a budget section of the passenger cabin, Hataman said, adding the search of the vessel was continuing.
“These victims perished on board due to the fire,” Hataman said. The governor said an investigation was under way and the discovery suggested there were additional travellers not listed on the vessel’s manifest.
The ferry was en route to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, he said.
At least 23 passengers were injured and brought to hospitals.
“Some of the passengers were roused from sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Hataman told The Associated Press by telephone.
Photographs shared by the coastguard showed the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 ship being sprayed with water, while rescued passengers were brought to the shore.
A passenger ferry caught fire past 11 pm on Wednesday, March 29, in the waters off Baluk-Baluk Island, Hadji Mutamad in Basilan. Ten people have died, nine people were injured and 230 have been rescued. 📷 Philippine Coast Guard
READ: https://t.co/lJzZvbiDxH pic.twitter.com/RtiKILlLXJ
— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) March 30, 2023
Governor Hataman said there could be more people missing because the number of passengers on the vessel exceeded the 205 listed in the ship’s manifest.
“Probably there are passengers who didn’t register in the manifest,” he said. Survivors were taken to Zamboanga and Basilan where the injured received treatment for burns, Hataman said.
It was not clear how the fire started.
Nixon Alonzo, chief of the Basilan disaster agency, said some passengers jumped into the sea when the fire broke out.
“Some of the fatalities were recovered from the vessel, and some drowned,” he said. “There were signs of burns in some of the victims.”
The coastguard said it will assist in an investigation and safety assessment, as well check for any signs of an oil spill.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, has a poor record for maritime safety, with vessels often overcrowded and many ageing ships still in use.
In May, at least seven people died after a fire in a high-speed Philippine ferry carrying 134 people.