A ferry caught fire in Dapitan City in the southern Philippines province of Zamboanga del Norte on August 27. At least three people were killed and 245 passengers were rescued. The vessel, MV Lite Ferry16, was sailing to Dapitan from Cebu when its engine caught fire before midnight Tuesday, forcing the passengers to jump in the cold water to escape the inferno.
The 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. It's good that a number of ships immediately responded. We have to recognize what they did.”
An investigation is underway to determine whether there were people not listed on the manifest, and how the fire broke out in the engine room. It was unclear how 245 passengers were rescued when the coast guard said a manifest showed that the ferry was carrying 136 passengers, including 28 children, and 36 crew members. Balilo said 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. The details of the third deceased are not available. It was not clear whether there were still people missing as no relatives approached the authorities to report any missing complaint. Meanwhile, an ongoing search will continue, Balilo said.
Passengers wore orange life vests waiting to be rescued at the loading bay of the ferry, which also carried some vehicles. Orange flames and smoke later engulfed almost the entire ferry in the darkness while the ship stayed afloat. Some passengers 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.
Sea accidents are common in Philippine because of frequent storms, overcrowding, weak enforcement of safety regulations and badly maintained boats. A similar accident took place in December 1987, when 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.
(Inputs from AP)