Death toll from ferry fire off Basilan now at 29 – Basilan gov

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — The death toll from the passenger ferry that caught fire off Basilan has risen to 29 after more fatalities were found, Basilan Governor Jim Salliman-Hataman said Thursday.

Salliman previously reported that 31 died in the blaze that engulfed M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 late Wednesday, but later issued a clarification on the number of retrieved bodies.

"Eighteen ang bago. Nasunog ito at nakita sa loob ng barko. Pero hindi pa naikot lahat dahil mainit pa ang barko," Salliman told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: There were 18 new fatalities. They got burned and were found inside the ship. But not everything has been inspected yet because the ship is still hot.]

The governor said he expects the death toll, which included at least three children, to climb further.

The vessel was carrying over 200 passengers when it caught fire along the waters of Baluk-Baluk Island in Basilan province, a coast guard official said.

According to latest data from Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Station Basilan, 186 survivors have so far been rescued.

During an earlier interview with CNN Philippines' Balitaan, Salliman said there were no details yet about the cause of the blaze.

Also speaking to CNN Philippines earlier in the morning, Mayor Arsina Kahing-Nanoh of Basilan's coastal municipality of Hadji Muhtamad said several passengers also sustained injuries, like burns.

The Philippine Coast Guard based in Zamboanga said the ferry was reported on fire at around 10:40 p.m.

The vessel owned by Aleson Shipping left Zamboanga City Pier and was bound for Jolo, Sulu when the fire broke out.

Citing one of the passengers rescued, Mayor Nanoh said an explosion was heard before the fire started.

When the ship ran aground, more explosions were heard as the fire grew, she added.

Nanoh said search and rescue operations are still ongoing. Authorities are also monitoring the possibility of an oil spill, she added.

The Coast Guard Station Basilan said in a social media post that several teams were sent to the area to assist.

The Coast Guard Sub-Station (CGSS) Maluso was able to retrieve a female body, it noted.

Meanwhile, the joint search and rescue team of CGSS Hadji Muhtamad and its local government unit rescued four people and retrieved another female cadaver, Coast Guard Station Basilan said.

"Coast Guard Station Basilan will immediately check if there are signs of oil spill and assist in the conduct investigation and assessment of the vessel at the same time continue conducting search and retrieval operations of the still missing individuals," it added.

Hataman expressed his sympathies to the passengers of M/V Lady Mary Joy 3.

All resources were already mobilized to assist the victims and to speed up search efforts for those who are still missing, he added.