At least 31 dead after Philippines ferry carrying 250 people catches fire

The remains of the MV Lady Mary Joy is seen in Basilan, southern Philippines. Credit: Philippine Coast Guard via AP

At least 31 people died after a passenger ferry carrying around 250 people caught fire in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Many of the people who survived the blaze jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea by the coast guard, navy, a nearby ferry and local fishermen, Governor Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan said.

The search and rescue effort was continuing on Thursday for at least seven missing passengers, with the fire said to have raged for eight hours.

Philippine Coast Guard personnel search for survivors from the fire on MV Lady Mary Joy. Credit: Philippine Coast Guard via AP

Mr Hataman said the burned ferry was towed to Basilan’s shoreline, where the bodies of 18 of the 31 victims were discovered in a budget section of the passenger cabin.

“These victims perished on board due to the fire,” he said.

The ferry’s skipper told coast guard officials that he tried to run the burning ferry aground on the nearest shore to allow more people to survive or be rescued, according to the regional coast guard commander Rejard Marfe.

The ferry was travelling to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire off Basilan close to midnight, Mr Hataman said.

At least 23 passengers were injured and taken to hospitals.

“Some of the passengers were roused from their sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Mr Hataman said.

Philippine Coast Guard members check the remains of the MV Lady Mary Joy. Credit: Philippine Coast Guard via AP

The ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, Mr Marfe said, and, according to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a 35-member crew.

In addition, it had four coast guard marshals and an unspecified number of soldiers who were not listed on the manifest for their protection, he added.

He said part of the investigation is to see whether the crew on the 33-year-old ferry properly guided passengers to safety.

The Philippines has a poor record for maritime safety, with many ageing ship still in use and vessels often overcrowded with passengers.

Last May, at least seven people were killed after a fire in a high-speed ferry carrying 134 people.

In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

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