3 dead as passenger ferry catches fire

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — Three people were killed in a passenger ferry fire early Wednesday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

One-year-old Chloe Labising, 60-year-old Danilo Gomez Sr., and a certain Orlando Heneral died in the M/V Lite Ferry 16 fire, PCG said. The ship caught fire hours after leaving Cebu on Tuesday bound for Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte.

Lite Ferry's management said all 180 passengers plus the 38 crew members on board the vessel have been accounted for after the search and rescue operations.

The PCG, however, said it rescued 245 passengers and crew members — way higher than what was on the manifest.

PCG Central Visayas spokesperson Lt. Jr. Grade Michael John Encina told CNN Philippines' News Night that nine people are still unaccounted for, but added they are not missing. No one else is looking for relatives on board the ship, he said.

PCG Central Visayas spokesperson Lt. Jr. Grade Michael John Encina told CNN Philippines' News Night that nine people are still unaccounted for, but added they are not missing. No one else is looking for relatives on board the ship, he said.

Lite Ferry Holdings Corporation Chief Operating Officer Fernando Inting said in a media briefing the company will give ₱10,000 in cash assistance for each passenger.

Orlan Fidel, among the survivors of the ferry fire, told CNN Philippines' Newsroom that they need clothes and money.

"Sana po hindi kami papabayaan and magbigay lang sila ng enough na tulong para sa amin para makauwi na kami nang maayos," he said. "Wala talaga kaming gamit na nasalba."

[Translation: I hope we won't be neglectes and they would give us enough assistance so we can go home ... We weren't able to save any of our belongings.]

Inting said some passengers have been brought to hospitals for a check up, while others are in hotels in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte.

Allan Barredo, a passenger of another ferry, said their vessel stopped to help rescue people who jumped off Lite Ferry 16 as the fire raged.

He lamented how there was no help from the PCG in the first four hours of the incident.

"By the way, we are so ill-equipped. We have rescued passengers on board without blankets, shivering... No one from Coast Guard showed up, four hours na," he said in a Facebook message.

Encina belied this, saying the PCG-Zamboanga del Norte was already conducting search and rescue operations after they received information about the burning vessel past 1 a.m.

The PCG has yet to investigate what caused the fire. An initial report from the PCG said the fire started from the ship's engine room but this still needs to be verified.

Inting said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has called to inform them that they will conduct a separate probe on the incident.

He said the NBI wants to check if there are any undeclared firearms and live ammunitions that are loaded to the ship when it caught fire.

Lite Ferry Vice President for Operations Jonathan Imboy admitted that there were at least two instances where security onboard the ship intercepted people bringing firearms and ammunition.

PCG Coast Guard Cebu Commander Alvin Dagalea, however, said the ship was cleared for sailing. It was also inspected before it left the port of Samboan in Cebu.

M/V Lite Ferry 16's management said it acquired the 24-year-old vessel in March 2015. They said the ship is fit for voyage and is much younger than other vessels operating in the country.

In a separate statement, its operator also said that the vessel underwent major retrofitting of its main enfgines and generators.

When it caught fire, M/V Lite Ferry 16 was carrying seven 10-wheeler trucks, 13 six-wheeler vehicles, nine four-wheeled vehicles and five motorbikes when it caught on fire.

Stringers Marlon Panares and Dale Israel contributed to this report.