Death scene in burned Filipino ferry moves rescuers to tears

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), PCG personnel walk beside the MV Lady Mary Joy that caught fire in Basilan, southern Philippines early Thursday, March 30, 2023. More than a dozen people died while other were reported missing after an inter-island cargo and passenger ferry with about 200 passengers and crew onboard caught fire close to midnight in the southern Philippines, a provincial governor said Thursday. - AP

MANILA, April 1 (AP): A Philippine coast guard commander said on Friday night that the tragic scenes of death his team saw aboard a gutted ferry, including adults clutching children, had moved them to tears and sparked fears other passengers could be found dead in the still-smoldering ship.

At least 29 of more than 250 people onboard the M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 were killed in the blaze that raged through the ferry Wednesday night while it was on an overnight trip from the southern port city of Zamboanga to Jolo town in Sulu province.

At least seven passengers, including two army soldiers, remained missing in the country's deadliest sea disaster this year, the coast guard said.

Basilan Governor Jim Hataman initially reported 31 deaths Thursday but later reduced the toll to 29 after search and rescue groups crossed-checked their figures.

All 35 crew members survived, including the captain, who issued an abandon-ship order when the fire hit close to midnight, then ran the ferry aground on an island off Basilan province to give remaining passengers a better chance to survive, coast guard officials said.

Many passengers jumped into the sea in panic without life jackets and were saved by rescuers but at least 11 drowned.

When a team of coast guard personnel, including Bureau of Fire officers, boarded the burned ferry on Baluk-baluk island's coast, they discovered the bodies of 18 passengers scattered on the uppermost open-air economy deck and another floor below, coast guard Commander Chadley Salahuddin said.

The passengers, including an adult clutching a child by the railing, could have easily jumped into the sea and survived like many others but failed to do so for unclear reasons. Two passengers, apparently siblings who were among the missing, were found holding each other in a bathroom, he said.

"When I first saw that scene, I was moved to tears with some of my men,” Salahuddin said. "It was a short journey. Why did so many have to die?”

"What if my mother or my other loved ones were the ones who were trapped here? They were just a step away from the open sides but why did they not jump off like the others?” Salahuddin asked.

The passengers, some of them charred beyond recognition, could have been overcome by the smoke and passed out or could have sustained injuries. Some survivors said they heard a series of firecracker-like blasts during the fire but Salahuddin said all of those details could only be assessed by investigators.

He feared more bodies could be found in the lower enclosed decks, which remained dangerously hot and could not be inspected on Thursday by his team.

His team found a partly burned rifle, which may have been left by a police officer who was among the passengers who survived, Salahuddin said, adding that there was no sign of a bomb explosion at least in the upper decks that they managed to inspect.

The steel-hulled ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, said another coast guard official, Commodore Rejard Marfe.

According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a 35-member crew, Marfe said. In addition, it had a security contingent consisting of four coast guard marshals, who all survived, and eight soldiers.

Threats posed by Muslim insurgents, including those aligned with the Islamic State group, remain a security issue in the southern Philippines, where cargo and passenger ships are provided extra security by the coast guard and other law enforcement agencies in vulnerable regions.

Marfe said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, if there were passengers not listed on the manifest, and whether the crew properly guided passengers to safety.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippines because of frequent storms, badly maintained vessels, 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. - AP

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Philippines , Sea Tragedy , Rescuers , Shocked , Scene , Situation


Next In Aseanplus News

Vietnam Festival 2023 kicks off in Japan in grand style
Asean Para Games 12 flag-raising ceremony held in Phnom Penh
Renewable energy surges, driven by solar boom and high fuel prices, report finds
Viral video of broken down lifts at Melaka Hospital does not tell the whole story, says exco rep
Brunei Magistrate Court hands 14 months’ jail to auto parts fraudster
Hong Kong police detain two performance artists on Tiananmen anniversary eve
Taiwan war would be ‘devastating,’ US�warns while criticising China at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore
New measures in Indonesia - Planning a holiday in Bali? Here are the dos and don’ts
Cricket-England name unchanged squad for first two Ashes tests
Deadly Indian rail crash shifts focus from new trains to safety

Others Also Read