MANILA — Faulty electrical wiring may have caused the March 29 fire that razed a passenger ferry off Basilan province and killed 28 people, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Tuesday.
PCG-Bangsamoro chief Cmdr. Rejard Marfe told ABS-CBN TeleRadyo that the possible cause was based on findings from the initial investigation conducted by the Coast Guard's Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP).
A short circuit inside an airconditioned room in the ferry was seen as the possible cause of the fire, Marfe said.
Hours after the fire broke out, eyewitnesses earlier said the fire may have started in one of the vessel's airconditioned cabins.
"Masyadong mabilis ang pangyayari at tulog sila. Iyong iba na-trap sa loob," Marfe said when asked why many victims were unable to exit the vessel before it was engulfed by flames.
(It all happened too fast, and they were asleep when the fire broke out. The others were trapped inside the ship.)
As of writing, no additional bodies were found in the ill-fated vessel after authorities conducted a thorough search and investigation.
Authorities on Saturday revised the death toll from 31 to 28. Marfe said that of the number, 11 bodies were found in the water while 17 others were found charred inside the vessel.
"[Ang mga bangkay na] ito ay subject for DNA testing para malaman natin ang identity nila," he added.
(These bodies are subject to DNA testing so we can determine their identities.)
The vessel, MV Lady Mary Joy 3, is still grounded on the shores of Baluk-Baluk Island in Basilan's Hadji Muhtamad town.
Marfe also noted that they are still finalizing the ferry's passenger manifesto. Citing data from the PCG in Zamboanga City, the vessel's port of origin, there were 249 people aboard the vessel when it caught fire on March 29.
Five people are still missing as of Tuesday.
"Kung bibilangin naman iyong ating survivors plus iyong casualties, this is a total of 244 so mayroon pa tayong missing na 5," he said.
(If we were to count our survivors plus the casualties, this is a total of 244 people. And we still have 5 others missing.)
Aleson Shipping Lines, the owner of the ill-fated vessel, had apologized for the disaster and expressed its condolences to families of the victims.
"We are deeply saddened and shocked over this tragic incident that has resulted in the loss of precious human lives. There are no words to describe the pain of losing a loved one and our hearts go out to the families, friends and relatives whom they left behind. We cannot apologize enough and we are profoundly sorry for the misery this incident has caused to many of us," the company's statement read.
"We have given out financial assistance to those in need and affected in the meantime. We continue to pray for God's comforting love for everyone at this very difficult time," it further read.