At least 31 people have died in a fire on a passenger ferry in the Philippines, including a six-month-old baby, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Thursday. Many of the survivors jumped into the sea in panic and were fished out by the coastguard, navy and local fishermen.
The MV Lady Mary Joy 3 was traveling from Zamboanga in the south of the country to Jolo in Sulu province.
Authorities have not yet determined the cause of the fire, which broke out around 11 p.m. (5 p.m. GMT) on Wednesday off the coast of Basilan Island while many passengers were sleeping in cabins on the ferry’s lower deck.
“I thought I was dreaming but when I opened my eyes it was dark and we were surrounded by smoke,” Mina Nani, 46, told radio station DZRH, who survived by jumping off the ship and sharing a lifebuoy with another passenger before everyone was rescued.
The burned ferry was towed to the shore of Basilan, where 18 more bodies were later discovered in the cheapest part of the passenger cabin. “They were completely burned,” Mindanao Coast Guard Chief Rejard Marfe told Reuters.
According to the fire department, the ferry was not overloaded and 230 people, including 35 crew members, were rescued.
Marfe previously said most passengers were asleep at the time of the fire, adding that “there was chaos on board”. Firefighters brought the blaze under control on Thursday.
Marine disasters in the Philippines
Agencies note that marine accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago, which consists of more than 7,600 islands, due to storms, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding and failure to enforce safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.
In May, at least seven people died in a fire on a Philippine ferry carrying 134 people. In 1987, about 5,000 people died in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster, when the overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off the island of Mindoro south of the capital Manila.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/HMM