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Seven killed in Philippine ferry fire; over 120 rescued

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – A ferry carrying more than 130 people caught fire in the northeastern Philippines yesterday, killing seven passengers and forcing many survivors to jump into the sea where they were rescued by other vessels.

The fire rapidly spread from the engine room to the upper passenger deck of the M/V Mercraft 2 while it was approaching a seaport in Real, town administrator Filomena Portales said. It had been en route to the town in Quezon province from Polillo Island.

Many of the 134 passengers and crew jumped into the water and were plucked from the sea by motorboats and cargo vessels, coast guard officials said.

“Fishing boats and other vessels were able to approach quickly and everybody helped, so the rescue was fast,” Portales told The Associated Press by telephone, adding many of those rescued were in shock and had to be treated for burns and bruises and given dry clothes and shoes.

Pictures released by the coast guard showed fire engulfing the ferry and dark smoke billowing from it. Injured survivors on stretchers were taken to waiting ambulance vans while a rescuer tried to revive an unconscious survivor by pressing on his chest.

The coast guard said everyone on the ferry had been accounted for and 24 people who were injured were brought to a hospital.

Portales said seven passengers died from burns and drowning and one possibly had a heart attack while floating in the water. Investigators were looking into the fire and other ferries operated by the owner of Mercraft 2 would likely be suspended from operating while undergoing safety inspections, officials said. The wreckage was towed to shore in Real.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and weak enforcement of safety regulations. In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.

Smoke billows from ferry M/V Mercraft 2 as it’s towed to an island off the town of Real, Quezon province, the Philippines. PHOTO: AP