Japan rescuers discover body on burning ferry

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese rescuers said Monday they had found the body of a person believed to be a missing crew member on a ferry that caught fire last week, prompting the evacuation of dozens of passengers.

Kunihiko Orita, a 44-year-old second officer, disappeared as he battled the blaze on the Sunflower Daisetsu off the coast of northern Japan on Friday.

Rescuers said they discovered a body near the origin of the fire but had yet to formally identify the victim.

The blaze, which may have started on a truck aboard the passenger ferry, had still not been extinguished by Monday afternoon.

A distress call was made Friday evening as the vessel sailed 55km off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.

A total of 94 people were aboard - 71 passengers and 23 crew members - when the blaze broke out on the vessel, according to ship owner MOL Ferry.

Passengers and other crew were safely evacuated on lifeboats and then transferred to other vessels.

The ferry - which was carrying more than 100 vehicles - had left from a port northeast of Tokyo earlier Friday bound for the city of Tomakomai, a trip of several hundred kilometres.