MANILA: Philippine officials have successfully rescued all 85 passengers and crew of an inter-island ferry that caught fire off a port near Manila, the coast guard said on Saturday, as authorities shifted focus toward investigating the blaze.
The boat, M/V Asia Philippines, which was listed as carrying 49 passengers and 38 crew members, had been partially engulfed near the port of Batangas, located south of the capital, on Friday evening.
The fire was brought under control hours later, with the Philippine Coast Guard reporting about 80 percent and 90 percent damage on the vessel’s second and third decks, respectively.
Officials concluded search and rescue operations on Saturday afternoon, after confirming that two of the remaining passengers on the list were not onboard and had taken a later ferry.
“All passengers and crew have been accounted for. Everyone is safe, while one person was injured,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.
The injured individual, a 43-year-old woman, was taken to the nearest hospital on Friday.
The ferry, which came from Calapan city in Oriental Mindoro province, was more than a kilometer away from Batangas, when smoke reportedly emerged from the second deck.
Officials have yet to determine the cause of the fire, but an investigation is underway.
“Our focus now will be the investigation,” Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Armando Ballilo told reporters in a text message.
The Philippines, an archipelago of over 7,100 islands where travel by sea is the cheapest mode of transportation, has a poor record for maritime safety. Over the years incidents have been caused by frequent storms, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding, and lax enforcement of safety regulations.
More than 4,300 people died in what is considered one of the world’s deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in December 1987, when an overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island south of Manila.
Earlier this year in May, at least seven people died after a ferry carrying 134 people caught fire just before reaching the port of Real in Quezon province, forcing passengers to jump into the sea.