Four people have died and 245 were rescued after a ferry caught fire in rough seas off Dapitan city in Zamboanga del Norte.
Fishing boats and passing ships came to the aid of passengers of the burning vessel in the early hours of this morning (Wednesday, August 28).
Survivors have told how they feared death by either burning or drowning while waiting for hours to be rescued from the M/V Lite Ferry 16.
The fire started in the engine room, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said. Despite the damage, the ferry remained afloat about 1.8 miles off Dapitan city, where it was heading from Santander in central Cebu province.
The victims include a one-year-old girl and two men in their 60s, Mr Balilo said.
“I was thinking of the Lord because I thought there were only two ways that I could end: I could get burned alive or I may drown,” Wilfredo Castro, a businessman, told The Associated Press by telephone after being rescued.
“The waves were too strong and rescue boats may not be able to find us if we jumped into the sea,” Castro said. After about five hours of frantic waiting in the ferry’s cargo loading bay, one of the parts of the ferry untouched by the flames, he said he and the others decided to go for it and dove into the sea.
They struggled in the strong waves but reached a waiting rescue boat.
Mr Balilo said the coast guard did not have any patrol ship in the area at the time, so it alerted nearby vessels to assist the rescue operation. “It’s good that a number of ships immediately responded,” he said.
It remains unclear whether any passengers are still missing, but none have yet been reported by relatives. Despite this, the search is continuing.
The boat’s official manifest listed just 172 passengers and crew. “We have ordered the captain to explain the discrepancy,” Mr Balilo told AFP.
About 30 years ago, another Philippine ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker in an accident that claimed more than 4,000 lives. This made it the world’s worst-ever peacetime disaster at sea.
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