7 killed after fire engulfs Philippine ferry

People throwing buckets of water onto a ferry that caught fire off Real town, Quezon province, on May 23, 2022. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE COASTGUARD/AFP

MANILA (AFP) - At least seven people were killed and scores plucked to safety in the Philippines Monday (May 23) after a fire ripped through a ferry and forced passengers to jump overboard.

The blaze broke out on the Mercraft 2 at around 6.30am, as it carried 124 passengers from Polillo Island to Real town in Quezon province on the main island of Luzon.

Seven people died and 120 have been rescued so far, Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armando Balilo said. A total of 134 passengers and crew were on board.

The fibre glass fast craft boat, which had a 186-person capacity, was about a kilometre from Real when it caught fire.  

“We heard an explosion,” said Mr Kycel Pineda, 18, who was travelling on another ferry.  

“When we saw the boat, it was already engulfed by fire and passengers were already floating in the sea,” the high school student added. 

Thick black smoke billowed from the boat as flames engulfed the entire vessel, photos shared by the coast guard showed. People with life rings and life vests were in the water. Some were rescued by other ferries.

People with life rings and life vests were in the water. Some were rescued by other ferries or clambered into inflatable boats.

The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Commodore Balilo said. A team of investigators was preparing to look into the cause.

"We were able to rescue 40 survivors. We have two fatalities," said Captain Brunette Azagra, whose passenger vessel was 500m from the Mercraft when the fire broke out.

"They were lucky because we also came from Polillo. They overtook us, but we were just nearby," Capt Azagra told a local radio station.

Twenty-four people were injured, including the captain of the ferry, according to the coast guard.

People trying to help rescued ferry passengers onboard another ferry, off Real town, Quezon province, on May 23, 2022. PHOTO: PHILIPPINE COASTGUARD/AFP

Speaking from the hospital where the injured were being treated, Real town disaster officer Ricky Poblete said the seven dead had drowned.

Photos posted on the coast guard’s Facebook page showed a survivor lying on a stretcher being carried off a ferry.

Another lay on the deck of a boat and appeared to be receiving treatment.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.

The fire on the Mercraft was under control and the burned-out wreckage towed to shore.

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