At least 31 people are dead after a fire broke out on a ferry in the southern Philippines and raged overnight for eight hours, officials said Thursday.
About 250 passengers and crew were aboard the boat Wednesday night when the blaze broke in the sea off Baluk-Baluk Island, said Gov. Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan. Rescuers were still searching Thursday for at least seven missing people, he said.
Many of the more than 200 people who survived the fire jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea by the coast guard, navy, a nearby ferry and local fishermen.
Who is Evan Gershkovich? What we know about WSJ reporter arrested by Russia for espionage
The Provincial Government of Basilan extended financial assistance to passengers aboard the vessel, according to a government Facebook post. Gov. Jim Salliman visited the survivors at the passengers' terminal in Isabela City early Thursday morning.
The ferry was traveling to Jolo from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire off Basilan close to midnight, Hataman said.
At least 23 people on board were injured and taken to hospitals, officials said.
The burned ferry was towed to Basilan’s shoreline, the governor said, where the bodies of 18 of the 31 victims were discovered in a budget section of the passenger cabin.
“These victims perished on board due to the fire,” Hataman told The Associated Press by telephone. He said more people may have been on the ferry who were not listed on its manifest.
The ferry’s skipper, however, told coast guard officials that he tried to run the burning ferry aground on the nearest shore to allow more people to survive or be rescued, regional coast guard commander Rejard Marfe said. The fire raged for about eight hours, he said.
Passengers roused from sleep
Hataman said some of the passengers were roused from their sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire.
"Some jumped off the ship,” he said.
The steel-hulled ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, Marfe said. According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a 35-member crew, he said. In addition, it had a security contingent consisting of four coast guard marshals and an unspecified number of soldiers who were not listed on the manifest for their protection, Marfe said.
He said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, if there were passengers not listed on the manifest, and whether the crew properly guided passengers to safety.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Natalie Neysa Alund covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Philippines ferry fire: At least 31 dead, passengers missing