Death toll in Philippine ferry blaze rises to 31: governor

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MANILA
The number of people killed in a fire that ripped through a ferry in the southern Philippines has risen to 31, the local governor said Thursday, after more bodies were found inside the burned-out wreckage.
“We initially have 13 deaths recorded, then we have 18 new deaths, so it’s now 31 deaths,” Basilan governor Jim Hataman-Salliman said.
Many of those rescued had jumped off the ferry in panic at the height of the fire and were plucked from the sea by the coast guard, navy, another ferry and local fishermen, said Hataman-Salliman. The search and rescue effort was continuing Thursday.
The governor said most of those onboard the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 were rescued overnight but authorities were double-checking the numbers from different rescue teams, suggesting the figures could change.
The ferry was enroute to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, he said.
The dead included at least three children, who apparently were separated from their parents, and at least 23 passengers were injured and brought to hospitals, he said.
“Some of the passengers were roused from sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Hataman-Salliman said by telephone.
Most of those who died drowned and were recovered at sea, officials said.
The burned ferry has been towed to Basilan’s shoreline and an investigation was underway, Hataman-Salliman 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.