5 killed, 255 rescued as ferry catches fire in Philippines

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Five people were killed today and several more injured when a ferry carrying 260 passengers caught fire off Mindoro island‘s Paluan Bay in rough seas. One of those killed was a five-year-old girl. The bodies of the deceased were taken to Pasay City. The wooden-hulled ferry was completely destroyed by the fire and sank as a result.

Rear Admiral Damian Carlos of the Philippine Coast Guard told reporters that the fire started in the cargo hold of MV Cataleen-D about 5 a.m. local time (2100 UTC yesterday), and the first distress signal was received by authorities at approximately 8 a.m. He went on to speculate that a cigarette or spontaneous combustion may have caused the blaze.

When the captain realised the firefighters were unable to contain the blaze he steered the vessel towards the Mindoro shoreline.

Most of the passengers and crew jumped into the safety of the sea when they saw that other parts of the ship had been engulfed by flames. The majority of them suffered burns to their faces. The first Coast Guard ship that responded was BRP Pampanga, with local fishing vessels saving around a hundred of those in the water. Carlos said of the Coast Guard, “It was a good thing that the rescuers were on a mission in Corregidor.”

The ship was owned by Manila-based San Nicolas Shipping Lines and captained by Danilo Faeldog. It had departed from Pier 2 at the Manila North Harbor around 7 p.m. Saturday, and was destined for Coron, Palawan.

It is the second disaster to strike San Nicolas Shipping Lines. In 2004 the MV San Nicolas sank after a collision with a WGA Super Ferry vessel. The San Nicolas was carrying 203 passengers, of which 25 were fatally injured.

The Coast Guard has initiated a full investigation into the cause of the disaster. The Maritime Industry Authority is expected to conduct its own investigation via the Board of Marine Inquiry. Carlos said the vessel’s owner, identified as Samuel Nicolas, and anyone else found responsible could be charged with “reckless imprudence resulting in possible homicide.”