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Philippine ferry catches fire at sea, all 120 people aboard rescued

In this handout photo provided by the Philippine Coast Guard, a man pushes a boat beside a burning Philippine ferry M/V Esperanza Star as it caught fire at the waters off Panglao, Bohol province, central Philippines on Sunday June 18, 2023. The Philippine ferry carrying up to 65 passengers and crew members caught fire at sea on Sunday and a coast guard vessel was deployed to rescue those onboard and try to extinguish the flames, coast guard officials said. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — All 120 passengers and crew members aboard a Philippine ferry that caught fire at sea on Sunday were rescued safely and the fire was extinguished, the coast guard said.

The M/V Esperanza Star caught fire at dawn while traveling from Siquijor province to Bohol province in the central Philippines with 65 passengers and 55 crewmembers, the coast guard said. It added that it deployed two vessels for rescue and to help put out the flames, which raged for more than five hours.

Photos and video released by the coast guard show flames and black smoke billowing from two decks at one end of the ferry. Coast guard personnel onboard another vessel used a water cannon to put out the fire while a fishing boat and one other vessel can be seen nearby.

“All those who were onboard the ferry are safe,” Joy Gumatay, coast guard spokeswoman, said in a statement but gave no further details.

She added that the survivors were brought to the port city of Tagbilaran in Bohol province and an investigation was underway.

Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent storms, poorly maintained vessels, overcrowding, and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.

In March, a fire broke out — and raged overnight — on a ferry carrying about 250 people and killed at least 31 passengers and crew members off the southern island province of Basilan, the coast guard said.

In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.