Rescuers search for survivors and bodies near a cargo vessel, which collided with a ferry on Friday, in Talisay, Cebu, August 17, 2013. Reuters


  • A Philippine official said the vessel was already on fire when passengers woke up
  • At least 230 people were rescued by the Philippine Coast Guard
  • The Philippine Coast Guard said a team has been deployed to check for a possible oil spill

At least 28 people, including several children, have died after a fire engulfed a commercial boat off the coast of the southern Philippine island of Basilan.

Basilan province Gov. Jim Hataman-Salliman said in a text message to Philippine news outlet ABS-CBN News that MV Lady Mary Joy 3 was carrying about 200 passengers when it caught fire at around 11 p.m. local time Wednesday. Firefighters brought the blaze under control early Thursday.

Commodore Rejard Marfe, the chief of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), told Reuters Thursday that they initially recovered 10 bodies of people who died of drowning but later "discovered another 18 on board the vessel" who were "totally burnt."

Salliman said at least three children, including a 6-month-old baby, died in the incident, while 14 injured passengers were brought to the hospital.

Around 230 people, including 35 crew members, were rescued from the vessel, with nine of them provided with first aid, Marfe said. The ferry was not overloaded, Reuters reported.

The ill-fated vessel was en route to Sulu island from Zamboanga City, according to Salliman.

The governor said there's no accurate account of the incident so far.

"I don't have an accurate account of what happened because most of those rescued here in Basilan, the ones I talked to, they said the fire had already erupted when they woke up," Salliman told ABS-CBN in a separate interview.

Marfe also said that most were sleeping at the time of the fire, adding, "There was chaos."

According to the coast guard chief, some eyewitnesses said the fire started from an air-conditioned cabin on the ship.

Marfe said a Marine Environmental Protection (MEP) team had been deployed to Basilan to look out for a possible oil spill.

"So far, there is no reported oil spill in the area," the PCG chief told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

"There are no leaks. However, it is still smoking and we also heard several explosions from inside," the coast guard official added.

The PCG's main headquarters in Manila deployed a four-man Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) to conduct a probe into the incident. The team was expected to arrive within Thursday, Marfe said.

The Philippines' worst maritime disaster occurred on Dec. 20, 1987, when the passenger ferry MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker en route to Catbalogan in Samar province.

The collision caused the passenger vessel to catch fire and sink, killing at least 4,386 people.

An official investigation revealed that none of the Doña Paz crew was at their posts during the incident, and other officers were either drinking beer or watching TV. It was also reported that the ill-fated vessel was overloaded since the official passenger manifest showed that Doña Paz only had 1,493 passengers and 59 crew members.

As an archipelagic country, the Philippines considers sea travel as one of its primary modes of transportation.

Data from the Philippine Ports Authority recorded 10,367,882 passenger traffic in 2022.

A Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue team looks for survivors of a ferry that sank in the waters off the central Philippines in this handout photo taken December 28, 2009. Reuters