MANILA (4th UPDATE) — At least 7 people died while 127 others were rescued when a ferry caught fire near the coast of Real, Quezon early Monday, officials said.
The blaze ripped through MV Mercraft 2 at around 6:30 a.m. as it carried 134 passengers and crew from Polillo Island to Real in Quezon province.
Five women and 2 men were killed in the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard said. Twenty-four others, including the captain of the ferry, were also injured.
PCG spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo said the fast craft vessel was approximately 500 yards from the port of Real when the fire broke out.
Photos of the incident showed passengers holding on to floating objects while the blaze engulfed the ferry, from which thick black smoke billowed. Another vessel also immediately came to rescue panicked passengers who leapt into water.
"We heard an explosion," said Kycel Pineda, 18, who was traveling on another ferry.
"When we saw the boat, it was already engulfed by fire and passengers were already floating in the sea," the high school student added.
The ferry left the port of Polillo Island at 5 a.m. with 124 passengers listed on the manifest. It had a 186-person capacity.
The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Balilo said. A team of investigators was preparing to look into the cause.
At least 40 passengers were plucked to safety by a passing ferry when the fire broke out.
"Nakita ko ang isang malaking usok na nanggagaling sa kaniya," said Captain Brunette Azagra of MV Au Calucin, a passenger vessel that was 500 meters from the burning ferry when the fire broke out.
"Sumunod ay ang paglaki ng apoy at ang sumunod kong nakita ay ang pagtatalunan ng mga pasahero," he told TeleRadyo.
(I saw thick smoke coming from it, then the fire grew big and the next thing I saw were passengers jumping.)
Speaking from the hospital where the injured were being treated, Real town disaster officer Ricky Poblete said the 7 dead had drowned.
Photos posted on the coast guard's Facebook page showed a survivor laying on a stretcher being carried off a ferry.
Another lay on the deck of a boat and appeared to be receiving treatment.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.
The fire on the Mercraft was under control at 9:33 a.m. and the burned-out wreckage towed to shore.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse