At least seven people died and 120 were rescued Monday in the Philippines after a ferry fire forced passengers to jump overboard, coast guards and witnesses said. The fire broke out on the Mercraft 2, which was carrying 134 passengers and crew from Polillo Island to Real, Quezon Province, on the main island of Luzon.

Searches for survivors were underway that night. At least 23 people have been hospitalized, including the captain of the ferry, according to the coast guard.

An explosion and chaos

“We heard an explosion,” said Kycel Pineda, 18, who was on another ferry. “When we saw the boat, it was already on fire and the passengers were already in the water,” added the schoolgirl.

Thick black smoke billowed from the burning boat, according to photos released by the Coast Guard. People with life jackets clung to buoys in the water. Some were rescued by other ferries.

The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Balilo said. It was subdued and the charred wreckage of the Mercraft 2 was towed away. An investigation has been opened.

The seven people who died are believed to have drowned

“We were able to rescue 40 survivors,” said Captain Brunette Azagra, whose ship was 500 meters from the Mercraft when the fire broke out. “They were lucky because we also came from Polillo. They passed us, but we were right next to it,” Brunette Azagra told local radio.

The boat was about seven kilometers from the port, said Ricky Poblete, in charge of disaster management in the city of Real. According to his information, the seven deceased people drowned.

Photos posted to the Coastguard’s Facebook page show a survivor lying on a stretcher and being carried off a ferry. The Philippine archipelago has more than 7,000 islands. Often, the boats do not meet the regulations in force and exceed their maximum transport capacity, and accidents are frequent.


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