Philippine ferry fire claims at least seven lives

The boat was about to reach the port of Real when the fire broke out

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Seven people died after a high-speed ferry caught fire in the Philippines on Monday, with another seven of the 134 people who were on board still missing, the coastguard said.

The Mercraft 2 caught fire before reaching the port of Real in Quezon province, about 60 kilometres east of the capital, Manila, on the main island of Luzon.

It left Polillo Island at 5am and made a distress call at 6.30am.

Five women and two men died, while 120 passengers were rescued. Twenty-three people, including the captain, were treated for injuries, the coastguard said.

The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Philippine coastguard spokesman Cdre Armando Balilo said.

Pictures shared by the coastguard showed people in life vests floating at sea awaiting rescue as fire and thick smoke engulfed the ferry.

The two-storey passenger boat had a 186-person capacity.

“We heard an explosion,” said Kycel Pineda, 18, a high school student who was travelling on another ferry. “When we saw the boat, it was already engulfed by fire and passengers were already floating in the sea.”

Brunette Azagra, captain of another passenger vessel that was 500 metres from the Mercraft 2 when the fire broke out, said they were able to rescue 40 survivors.

“They were lucky because we also came from Polillo. They overtook us, but we were just nearby,” Capt Azagra told a local radio station, describing sea conditions as “quite good”.

The wreck was towed to shore after the fire was brought under control.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, has a poor maritime safety record, with vessels often overcrowded and many vessels well past their prime.

In 1987, about 5,000 people died in the world's worst peacetime shipping disaster after an overloaded passenger ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island, south of Manila.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 5:11 AM