Fishing boats and passing ships rescued 245 people from a ferry that burned overnight in choppy waters in the southern Philippines but at least three people perished, including a child, coast guard officials said Wednesday. Survivors described how they feared being killed by either the fire or waves while waiting for hours to be rescued as brightorange flames engulfed much of the vessel, the M/V Lite Ferry 16, off Dapitan city in Zamboanga del Norte province. The fire apparently started in the engine room, coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said. Despite the damage, the ferry stayed afl oat about 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) off Dapitan city, where it was heading from Santander in central Cebu province.
The victims were a 1-year-old girl and two male passengers in their 60s, Balilo said. “I was thinking of the Lord because I thought there were only two ways that I could end: I could get burned alive or I may drown,” Wilfredo Castro, a businessman, told The Associated Press by telephone after being rescued.
Some passengers jumped off the ferry in panic when the fire broke out before midnight Tuesday and were rescued by passing vessels.
Castro said he and about 30 mostly male fellow passengers allowed a group of the elderly, women and children to be rescued first by a passenger speed boat but when their turn came, the waves grew more dangerous in the darkness.
“The waves were too strong and rescue boats may not be able to find us if we jumped into the sea,” Castro said. After about five hours of frantic waiting in the ferry’s cargo loading bay, one of the parts of the ferry untouched by the fl ames, he said he and the others decided to go for it and dove into the sea. They struggled in the strong waves but reached a waiting rescue boat, he said. “This is my second life,” the 30-year-old businessman said with relief, although he lost a laptop, a camera, a cellphone, clothes and other belongings. (AP)