MANILA, March 30 (Reuters) – Philippine rescuers searched the smoldering ruins of a burnt-out ferry on Thursday for any survivors or more victims of a fire that swept through the inter-island vessel killing 29 people, including a 6-month old baby, authorities said.
Investigators have yet to identify the cause of the fire that started at about 11 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Wednesday off the southern island of Basilan, when many passengers were asleep in air-conditioned 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, a passenger on the MV Lady Mary Joy 3, told DZRH radio.
She said she survived by jumping off the vessel and sharing a floatation device with another passenger until they were rescued.
There were conflicting figures of the number of people on the ferry, which officials said was not overloaded. The coast guard said 225 people including 36 crew were rescued.
Eleven people, including three children, drowned after jumping off the burning ship, while 18 died in the blaze on board, Governor Hadjiman Hataman Salliman told DZRH.
“We have yet to explore the entire ship because it’s still hot,” Salliman said of the beached vessel.
Commodore Rejard Marfe, coast guard chief in the Mindanao region, told Reuters there was “chaos” after the spreading fire roused people from their sleep and the 18 victims found onboard were “totally burnt.”
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, has a poor record for maritime safety, with vessels often overcrowded and many aging ships in use.
In May, at least seven people died in a fire on a high-speed ferry carrying 134 people.
In 1987, about 5,000 people died in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster, when an overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island south of the capital, Manila.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome MoralesEditing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)
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