Death toll due to Basilan ferry fire lowered to 29; 7 still missing

At a glance

  • The number of people who perished due to a fire at passenger-cargo vessel MV Lady Mary Joy 3 while it was sailing off Basilan already reached 29 as of Friday, March 31.

  • At present, there were 216 survivors, while seven others remained unaccounted for.

  • PHOTO: A PCG vessel puts out the fire that engulfed MV Lady Mary Joy 3 near Baluk-Baluk Island in Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan, on March 29, 2023. (Courtesy of PCG)

The number of people who perished due to a fire at passenger-cargo vessel MV Lady Mary Joy 3 reached 29 while search and rescue operations and coastal patrol continued in the vicinity waters off Basilan to find seven others who were still missing, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Friday, March 31.

At present, there were 216 rescued individuals who were brought to Zamboanga City for profiling, according to Commodore Rejard Marfe, district commander of PCG Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

The official death toll was lower compared to the 31 fatalities reported by Basilan Gov. Jim Salliman on Thursday night.

“We have consolidated our figures in coordination with the Coast Guard Station in Zamboanga last night, and as of this morning, the number of our casualties reached 29. We also have 216 survivors,” Marfe said in Filipino in a radio interview with dzBB.

Of the 29 fatalities, 11 drowning victims were already identified, while the rest were burned to death. Among those who died were six children and minors.

“Our problem now is that we have recovered 18 [bodies] onboard the burnt ship, so these will be subjected for DNA testing so we can identify them,” Marfe said.

“There are also seven individuals who are still unaccounted for based on the manifest, which include crew and personnel of the Coast Guard and the Army who acted as security,” he added. “We cannot determine yet if the missing persons are part of the crew since we are still profiling the survivors.”

Based on the passenger manifest of MV Lady Mary Joy 3, there were 252 individuals onboard the vessel when it caught fire at 9.3 nautical miles off the littoral monitoring station (LMS) Pilas near Baluk-Baluk Island in Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan, around 10:40 p.m. last Wednesday, March 29.

Among them were 205 passengers, 35 crew, four sea marshalls from the PCG, and eight security personnel from the Philippine Army (PA). The ferry owned by Aleson Shipping Lines, Inc. came from Zamboanga City and was supposed to go to Jolo, Sulu when the fire broke out.

Citing accounts from the survivors, Marfe said the fire appeared to have originated from an airconditioned room at the cabin, which quickly spread to the adjacent kitchen room.

“According to the narrative of the survivors, the fire came from an air-conditioned room at the cabin. Then it was chaos; everything happened quickly,” he said.

Many survivors jumped off the ship; some of them survived the chilly water, while others drowned. Several passengers could not immediately get out of the vessel because of the commotion, and they were trapped, their burnt bodies found later.

The nearly nine-hour blaze was eventually declared out around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, March 30.

The exact cause of the fire is yet to be determined as a marine casualty investigation was already ongoing.

“The Marine Environmental Protection Unit-BARMM conducted an oil spill assessment and yielded a negative result,” the PCG said.

“BRP Tubbataha (MRRV-4401), BRP Cape Engano (MRRV-4411), and PCG-manned BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources] vessel MCS 3007 continue SAR [search and rescue] operations in the vicinity waters off Baluk-Baluk Island,” it added.