Philippines: All 85 people from burned ferry safely rescued

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — All 85 passengers and crew of an inter-island ferry that caught fire near its port destination south of Manila have been safely rescued and a search effort has been terminated, Philippine officials said Saturday.

The last two passengers unaccounted for on the M/V Asia Philippines, which was carrying 47 passengers and 38 crewmembers, turned out to have taken a different ferry. They were earlier believed to be onboard the cargo and passenger vessel that was hit by fire on Friday as it approached the port in Batangas province, coast guard officials said.

The ferry, which came from Calapan city in Oriental Mindoro province, was more than a kilometer (about a mile) away from the Batangas port when smoke emerged from the second deck followed by flames, forcing many passengers to jump into the water in panic, according to one of the rescued passengers. They were plucked from the water by coast guard personnel, nearby bancas and tugboats.

A ship also helped the coast guard extinguish the fire on the ferry, which was later towed to an anchorage area as an investigation into the cause of the fire began, the coast guard said. Inspectors reported that the 16 vehicles carried on the ferry were not damaged.

The ferry’s proximity to the port allowed the rapid rescue of all the victims, one of whom was brought to a hospital with injuries, officials said.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.

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.