Fishing boats and coastguard vessels rescued hundreds from a stricken ferry in southern Philippine waters on Tuesday night in a blaze which killed three people.
The fire apparently started in the engine room. Orange flames and smoke consumed almost the entire vessel but the M/V Lite Ferry 16 stayed afloat, about 3 kilometres off a port in Dapitan city in Zamboanga del Norte province, where it was heading after departing Santander town in central Cebu province on Tuesday.
The ship’s manifest had 36 crew members and 136 passengers, 28 of them children listed as on board, but more than 245 people were rescued.
The coastguard said investigators would ask the ferry owner and skipper to explain the discrepancy between the listed occupants and the number rescued.
It also praised local fisherman and cargo boats for coming to the aid of passengers, some of whom leapt into the choppy waters to escape the flames, local news reported.
“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,” coastguard spokesman Armand Balilo said.
“It’s good that a number of ships immediately responded. We have to recognise what they did.”
A one-year-old girl, a male passenger, 60, and a third person died, Mr Balilo said. He did not have more details on the identity of the third person or the causes of their deaths.
Rescuers continued to search for the remaining 34 people thought to be missing on Wednesday, said National Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif.
Meanwhile, in the northern Philippines, ferries were warned not to go to sea after a fast-moving storm blew across the main island of Luzon overnight. Heavy rains fell in northern provinces, but no casualties or major damage was reported, and the storm has weakened into a tropical depression.
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.