Many still searching for kin after ferry fire
ZAMBOANGA CITY — Michelle Chico, 23, and her sister Carmelita, 41, were traveling aboard MV Lady Mary Joy 3 on Wednesday with her 2-year-old niece, Angelica, who was making her first trip to the family’s hometown of Jolo.
What would have been a seven-hour overnight trip ended in tragedy when the ferry caught fire just one and a half hours after leaving the port of Zamboanga.
“It’s a vacation, we will be visiting our parents in Jolo as we live now in Siay (in Zamboanga Sibugay province),” said Michelle, who is still having some problems with her eyesight resulting from the accident.
She recalled seeing thick smoke coming from the lower deck. Feeling the heat becoming more intense, she believed that the fire was spreading fast.
She woke up her sister who then grabbed Angelica and they all ran toward the rear of the boat, getting ready to evacuate.
READ: Floating inferno: Dozens dead, missing in ferry fire
Amid the commotion and panic, Michelle got separated from her sister and niece, who are now listed among the missing.
Like Michelle, the couple Naber and Nurmina Asadil are still looking for their 2-month-old son Al Saidi, who, along with the baby’s 5-year-old brother, Almali, were with them when they jumped into the water as the blaze swept through the ferry from deck to deck.
Asadil said Al Saidi, who was with his mother then, fell off the boat first. Only Asadil, his wife and Almali were fished out of the dark and cold water by rescuers.
Jamal Abduhadi, 30, a construction laborer, is also looking for his 3-year-old daughter, Marciana, who traveled with her mother, Merilyn, and grandfather, Abdulkalam Ali, to Jolo.
READ: PCG: Search operations continue for 7 missing passengers in Basilan ferry blaze
Ali died but Merilyn survived with burns in different parts of her body.
“Until now, there has been no word about my daughter,” Abduhadi said, holding back his tears.
29 dead, 7 missing
On Friday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said 29 had died—11 drowned and 18 burned to death—with seven still missing.
The charred remains recovered in the middle part of second deck would have to be identified through DNA tests, the PCG said.
Ensign Tennessee Rojas, deputy commander of the PCG Zamboanga Station, said there were no other missing passengers although some of them could be among the 18 who burned to death.
According to a PCG report, the boat carried 252 people when it left Zamboanga City—205 passengers and 35 crew members who were all on the manifest. There were eight Army soldiers and four coast guard personnel who were not listed.
READ: Fatal Basilan ferry fire prompts call for probe into enforcement of sea travel rules
The report said there were 216 survivors and 29 fatalities, leaving seven still missing.
But the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) of Basilan released 22 names of missing persons.
They were identified as Mayda Binhar, Pvt. Steven Malalis, Pfc. Mario Malda, Cpl. Darwin Guyagoy. Radjad Sahibad, Dorie Hamia, Aivann Julpa, Akab Pakkang, Farhan Pakkang, Carmila Pakkang, Mar Amid, Pvt. Takaban, Putliti Aisa Jamalul Cadayong, Samer Adar, Alvilyn Hasiron, Sharefa Hadilsali, Shahada Hadilsali, Anhar Julhambri, Andrew Cerbatos, Maida Ben and Notitan Baltasan.
The PDRRMO Basilan also released the names of seven of the 29 fatalities: Fadzdrina Lasal, 3; Hussin Halul Hamid; Aiyah Bungso Jr.; Jack Bungso Jr.; Arsaic Damil, 6 months; Abdulkalam Ali, 60; and Nafisa Muksan.
The PCG’s count of Army personnel appeared to be incomplete. According to the Army’s 41st Infantry Battalion in Sulu, 25 soldiers were among the passengers and one is missing.
On Friday, the Sulu PDRRMO said they received requests to find 48 individuals who boarded the boat. Only 23 were listed as survivors.
Considering all the official figures, the Inquirer reckons that up to 47 are still missing.
READ: After fatal Basilan vessel fire, Poe renews push for PH transport safety board
Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan called on the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct a probe of the incident, parallel to those being undertaken by the PCG and other maritime agencies.
Two members of the interim parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and a senator are calling for a thorough investigation of the ferry fire.
Calls for probe
“While we grieve with the families of those lost in the tragic ferry fire, we in the Bangsamoro government should also make sure we take steps to ensure that this incident does not happen again. It is very unfortunate that this tragedy occurred during the Holy Month of Ramadan, which only adds to our sorrow,” said BARMM Parliament Member Amir Mawallil.
In Manila, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said officials of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the PCG should be held liable for the tragedy, noting that it happened just a month after MT Princess Empress sank and spilled thousands of liters of industrial fuel off Oriental Mindoro.
READ: Solon questions maritime authorities’ capability to avert disasters
In a statement on Friday, Marina said it ordered ferry owner Aleson Shipping Lines Inc. to assist the victims of the ferry fire, give medical attention, financial and whatever assistance to families of those who lost their loved ones.
Marina also ordered a survey on the entire Aleson fleet “as well as intensified compliance monitoring for all vessels in the country.”
—WITH REPORTS FROM SHEILA MAE DE LA CRUZ, MARLON RAMOS AND DEXTER CABALZA
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