Two people were killed and at least 139 others missing after a passenger ferry bound for Bacolod City caught fire early yesterday morning near Corregidor island
, according to a report on PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE.
It was not clear if the more than 100 people still unaccounted for were rescued by fishing boats. They were either trapped inside the ill-fated SuperFerry 14 or disappeared after jumping into the sea, the news agency reported.
Twice, the fire appeared to be out, only to rekindle. Shortly after dawn, more than five hours after the blaze broke out, two loud explosions came from inside the back section of the passenger ship, followed by billowing black smoke and walls of flame.
There were no reports as to the identities of the two fatalities, but authorities reported that at least 700 people have been rescued and one body had been recovered. Another 12 people were reported injured.
Coast Guard firefighters battled the blaze, hampered by strong winds and rough seas. The ferry was listing to one side, and two tugboats tried to prop it up while pumping water that turned to steam as it hit the stricken ship’s roof.
There were conflicting reports about what caused the fire. Coast Guard deputy commander for operations Commodore Danilo Abinoja said
it might have been an explosion in the engine room, while other accounts said an air conditioner exploded.
In a statement, the ship’s owner, WG&A, said the fire broke out near Corregidor island, about 70 km southwest of Manila, nearly two hours after the ferry left Manila’s North Harbor with 737 people – 621 passengers and a crew of 116. The ship was headed for Bacolod City enroute to Cagayan de Oro City.
The same statement said the ship’s captain, Ceferino Manzo, immediately "mobilized the firefighting and crowd and crisis teams" and after 40 minutes, gave the order to abandon ship.