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MANILA: Philippine authorities have successfully rescued the 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 focused on the fire investigation.
The boat, the M/V Asia Philippines, which was carrying 49 passengers and 38 crew members, was partially engulfed near the port of Batangas, located south of the capital, on Friday evening.
The fire was brought under control a few hours later, with the Philippine Coast Guard reporting approximately 80% and 90% damage to the ship’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 on board and later caught a ferry.
“All passengers and crew have been located. All are safe, while one person has been injured,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.
The injured person, a 43-year-old woman, was taken to the nearest hospital on Friday.
The ferry, which came from the town of Calapan in the eastern province of Mindoro, was more than a kilometer from Batangas when smoke was reported to have emerged from the second bridge.
Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the fire, but an investigation is ongoing.
“Our focus now will be the investigation,” Coast Guard spokesman Commodore Armando Ballilo told reporters in a text message.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,100 islands where travel by sea is the cheapest mode of transport, has a poor record on maritime safety. Over the years, incidents have been caused by frequent storms, poorly maintained boats, overcrowding and lax enforcement of safety rules.
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 Dona Paz passenger ferry collided with an offshore oil tanker from 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 overboard.