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3 dead, 70 others rescued in Philippine ferry fire


MANILA, Philippines >> An inter-island ferry with at least 75 people caught fire then sank amid stormy weather in the central Philippines on Sunday, leaving 3 people dead, one missing while the rest were rescued, officials said.

The steel-hulled M/V Island Fastcraft 1 was cruising toward Cebu province when it caught fire during a downpour, prompting several passengers to jump into the churning waters. Three of them drowned.

Henry Dungod said he, his wife and two young daughters were watching television with other passengers in a cabin when smoke suddenly wafted from below the ferry, sparking a panic. He and his wife grabbed life jackets and then jumped to the sea, each holding one daughter.

“It’s scary, especially when something like this happens and you’re with your family,” Dungod told The Associated Press by telephone, adding he and his loved ones were plucked from the waters by a passing ship after nearly an hour.

Most of the passengers were rescued by a passing ship, coast guard officer Fidel Hibaya said.

Coast guard chief Admiral Ramon Liwag said one passenger was reported missing.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the blaze, but there was a report of an electrical problem in the engine room before the fire. An investigation was under way, Liwag said.

The captain apparently ordered passengers and crew to abandon the ship when the fire began to spread, said Hibaya, commander of the coast guard detachment in Tubigon town in Bohol Province where the ferry originated.

The dead included the chief mate and two passengers, the coast guard said.

Liwag said his personnel alerted ships in the area to help in the rescue, preventing a larger number of casualties.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.

In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker in the Philippines, killing more than 4,341 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster. 

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