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Tragedy Averted in Philippines as 230 Lives Saved, 31 Perish in Ferry Fire

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At least 31 people, including a six-month-old infant, died in the second ferry disaster in the Philippines in less than a year late Wednesday.

Authorities confirmed the death toll on Thursday, adding that at least 230 others have been rescued from the burning ferry that caught fire around 11 pm (3 pm GMT) on Wednesday off the southern island of Basilan.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the fire, which alarmed most of the passengers, who were sleeping in air-conditioned cabins on the lower deck of the ferry.

“I thought I was dreaming, but when I opened my eyes it was completely dark and smoke surrounded us,” Mina Nani, 46, a passenger on the MV Lady Mary Joy 3, told DZRH radio.

She said she survived by jumping off the ship and sharing a flotation device with another passenger until they were rescued.

There were conflicting figures on the number of passengers on the ferry, which officials said was not overburdened. The coast guard said 225 people had been rescued, including 36 crew members.

Eleven people, including three children, drowned after jumping from the burning ship, Governor Haciman Hatteman Suleyman told DZRH, while 18 people perished in the fire on board.

“We haven’t explored the whole ship yet because it’s still hot,” Suleiman said of the beached ship.

He said the survivors were taken to Zamboanga and Basilan, where the injured received treatment for burns.

Pictures released by the coast guard showed one of its vessels spraying water on the burning ferry while people in smaller boats pulled passengers out of the dark water.

Commodore Richard Marvey, coast guard commander in the Mindanao region, told Reuters that there was “chaos” after the spread of fire that woke people from their sleep and that the 18 victims found on board the ship were “completely burned”.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, has a poor maritime safety record, with ships often overcrowded and many aging vessels in use.

In May, at least seven people died in a fire on a high-speed ferry carrying 134 people.

In 1987, some 5,000 people perished in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster, when an overloaded passenger ferry, Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro Island, south of the capital, Manila.

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