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Philippines ferry fire claims 23 lives

April 12, 2002

MANILA, April 11: Fire swept across a Philippine inter-island ferry in minutes on Thursday, killing at least 23 people, many of whom drowned after jumping overboard.

Many passengers were missing.

Passengers drowned when they jumped off the MV Maria Carmela, a 680-ton passenger and cargo vessel, after it caught fire as it steamed towards the port of Lucena, 110kms southeast of Manila.

The fire started when the ship was 18kms off Lucena, the coast guard said.

Manila radio station DZMM quoted survivors as saying that the fire started with an explosion in the cargo hold and spread across the ship within 10 minutes. Passengers fought for life jackets, the survivors said.

Some of those who were killed died from severe burns.

Passenger Juanito Capareno said he survived by clinging to a length of rope thrown at him.

“We were five holding on to the rope. Minutes later, all of them (the others) were gone,” he said. “One of them was a boy.”

A total of 290 people, including 243 passengers and 47 crew, were on board. It was the latest maritime disaster to befall the Philippines, an archipelago of about 7,000 islands.

Overcrowding on inter-island ships is rife and the safety record is dismal. In 1987, about 4,000 people died in a collision between the ferry Dona Paz and an oil tanker near Manila — the world’s worst peacetime sea tragedy.

In one of the latest accidents, at least 138 people drowned and 70 were rescued two years ago when a ferry capsized off southern Jolo island.—Reuters