Philippine Coast Guard via AP
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Coast Guard staff and volunteers have rescued more than 80 passengers and crew from an inter-island ferry that caught fire as it approached a port south of Manila, prompting many to jump into the water as flames spread rapidly in the windy weather, officials said on Saturday.
Only two passengers are missing and authorities are checking whether the two are missing or rescued, but immediately returned home without informing officials who conducted the search on Friday, the Coast Guard said. The M/V Asia Philippines was carrying 49 passengers and 38 crew.
The ferry, which came from the town of Calapan in the eastern province of Mindoro, was more than a kilometer (about a mile) from the port of Batangas, when smoke came out of the second bridge followed by flames, according to the one of the rescued passengers.
The ferry’s proximity to the port allowed for the rapid rescue of victims even after dark by coast guard vessels and nearby vessels, motor bancas and tugs. A vessel helped the coastguard put out the fire, which destroyed the ferry which was also carrying at least 16 cars and trucks, coastguard officials said.
Passenger Benedict Fernandez told DZMM radio Friday night that smoke and flames suddenly rose from the second deck as crew members apparently tried to start and stop an engine as the ferry swerved. was approaching the port. There was no immediate order to abandon ship, but when it became difficult to see because of the smoke, he said he had decided to jump in the water with his two children since the third deck, along with other passengers.
“I pushed my kids because if we didn’t jump off the top, we would get really burned because the soles of our feet were already feeling the heat,” Fernandez said.
They were rescued from the water by another boat which approached the burning vessel and then transferred to a tugboat, which brought them to port, he said.
Footage released by the Coastguard showed its staff trying to resuscitate a rescued passenger, a 43-year-old woman, at the port before she was taken to hospital with injuries. Fernandez said he and his two children, who were shaken by the experience, and other passengers were taken to a hotel by officials from the company that owns the ferry.
The ferry, which has been towed to an anchorage, can carry around 400 passengers, the coastguard said, adding that an investigation was ongoing. In the past, there have been cases where ferries carried unlisted passengers in defiance of regulations.
Marine accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago due to frequent storms, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding and uneven enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.
In December 1987, the Dona Paz ferry sank after colliding with an oil tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.