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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 08:23 GMT
Many missing in Manila ferry fire
Survivors from the Superferry blaze
A cargo ship and naval vessels rescued many survivors
More than 100 people are missing after a fire on board a Philippines ferry forced many to abandon ship.

More than 600 other passengers and crew were rescued and there are hopes that the missing people were picked up by other ships.

At least one person is known to have died after the fire broke out, two hours into the boat's journey from Manila to Bacolod, central Philippines.

Rescue vessels have been deployed in the area, the coast guard said.

"We climbed down on a nylon cord and swam to the nearest fishing boat," Jetro Restiza, one of 43 marine engineering students who were training on the ferry, told Reuters news agency.

"Our instinct was to save ourselves and jump from the ship," he said.

Officials said they hoped that the missing people had been rescued and were simply unaccounted for, perhaps because their rescuers headed to different ports.

Sister, I'm about to jump
Ferry passenger
via mobile phone

But Admiral Damian Carlos, commander of Coast Guard operations, said the blackened ship had still not been properly searched.

"We are waiting for the temperature to cool down before we allow rescuers inside," he said after the stricken Superferry 14 was towed from the mouth of Manila Bay to nearby Bataan island.

There were about 860 passengers and crew aboard the Superferry 14, which reportedly has a capacity of well over 1,000 people.

Survivors said the fire began as many of the passengers were heading to bed.

The vessel reportedly put out a distress call at about 0100 local time (1700 GMT) near Corregidor Island - about two hours after it left Manila.

'Smoke all over'

There are conflicting reports as to whether the fire started in the galley or an air-conditioning unit.

A local radio station quoted relatives of some of the passengers as saying they were told by mobile phone there was an explosion before the fire.

"We rushed toward the main deck," Christie Cayetona, one of the rescued passengers, told the DZRH radio station.

"There was smoke all over," she added.

One man reportedly received a worrying text message from his wife, who was on the ship with their 15-day-old baby.

"Our ship is on fire. Don't worry, we're safe, but I got separated from our baby. Please pray for our baby," it said.

Hours later, Rodel Castillo learned his wife and daughter were being brought back to Manila on different ships.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, has an extensive network of ferry services, but the safety record of the domestic shipping industry is poor.

The most serious accident occurred in 1987 when the ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker, killing more than 4,000 people in the world's worst peacetime sea tragedy.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John McLean
"Survivors told of panicky passengers jumping into the sea as the flames spread"



SEE ALSO:
Swimmers rare in land of water
11 Apr 02  |  Asia-Pacific
The Philippines men at sea
20 Jan 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
24 May 03  |  Country profiles


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