HEADLINE | MANILA- Probers: Lamp spark triggered ferry fire
Zamboanga City, Philippines – A spark from a ceiling lamp in a passenger cabin may have caused the fire that killed dozens of passengers on the ferry Lady Mary Joy 3 off Basilan, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) investigators said yesterday.
The PCG’s Marine Casualty Investigation team revealed the initial findings after interviewing passengers and crewmembers.
“Based on the initial results of the interview, it showed that the fire started from one of the air-conditioned passenger cabins. Apparently, there was spark from the ceiling lamp. The plastic covering reportedly melted and hit the mattress, causing the fire,” Ens. Tenessy Charl Rojas, deputy commander and spokesman for the Zamboanga Coast Guard station, said.
Rojas said three investigators from PCG headquarters in Manila arrived here late Thursday.
He said based on interviews with survivors, crewmembers using fire extinguishers tried in vain to put out the fire, which spread rapidly on the deck. Rojas said investigators are set to further inspect the wreckage of the boat for more evidence.
Meanwhile, forensic experts from the Philippine National Police (PNP) are preparing to conduct DNA tests on charred remains of fatalities as retrieval operations by the Bureau of Fire and Protection (BFP) and the PCG continue. Search and rescue operations were also ongoing.
“DNA samples will also be extracted for the identification of the charred remains,” Rojas said. The DNA testing would be performed in this city, according to Rojas.
As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the number of fatalities remained at 29 – 11 plucked out of the water and 18 charred bodies recovered from the wreckage of the ship, Rojas revealed. There were 216 survivors, he added. The PCG in BARMM said seven passengers were missing.
The boat was reportedly carrying 252 people including 205 passengers, 35 crewmembers, eight soldiers and three PCG personnel.
M/V Lady Mary Joy was en route to Jolo, Sulu from Zamboanga City when it caught fire and ran aground in Baluk-baluk Island, Hadji Muhtamad town, Basilan Wednesday night.
Earlier yesterday, PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo said there were no indications of terrorism in the conflagration that engulfed M/V Lady Mary Joy and killed several people.
“There was no hint or any claim of terrorism angle, nothing. We’re looking at all angles but at the moment there is no indication of sabotage,” he said when asked about the possibility of terror involvement.
He also said that based on what remained of the ship, it was unlikely that more survivors would be found. “But we need to search the entire ship,” he said.
He also said the PCG was ruling out overloading as the ill-fated vessel had a capacity of 430 passengers.
Meanwhile, senators reminded yesterday the PCG, Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and other concerned agencies of their mandate to strictly enforce regulations meant to ensure passenger safety and protection.
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, in separate statements, lamented that maritime tragedies like the Basilan ferry fire and the MT Princess Empress oil spill could have been prevented had MARINA, PCG and concerned agencies properly exercised their respective mandates.
Villanueva said the fire was “preventable had everyone – ship owner, crew, PCG and MARINA – been diligent in ensuring safe voyage and value the life of passengers onboard.”
“The M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 tragedy brings back memories of neglect and problems of corruption in the enforcement of safety of seagoing vessels and where passengers ships/vessels serve practically as floating coffins because of their lack of safety,” Villanueva said.
“With these tragic events, it seems that we are backsliding from the reforms in maritime safety,” he said.
He voiced intention to call for an inquiry to look into how concerned agencies, especially MARINA and PCG, are enforcing rules on seaworthiness, safety requirements and manning compliance of the vessel.
He also said he wants to find out how the Department of Labor and Employment is ensuring compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Act, and if OSH inspections are regularly done on domestic shipping vessels.
Estrada, for his part, lamented that transportation tragedies appear to be the norm ahead of or during long holidays.
He cited past maritime accidents, the most tragic of which was the sinking of M/V Doña Paz which claimed the lives of more than 4,000 passengers, as well as a series of oil spill incidents, including the most recent one off Mindoro involving tanker MT Princess Empress.
“This incident, as well as the sinking of tanker MT Princess Empress, should serve as a wake-up call to the concerned authorities in coming up with needed mechanisms to prevent the recurrence of sea accidents,” he said.
But Estrada said the Senate need not investigate the latest mishap as “what the public immediately needs is assurance of security of their safety from those tasked to oversee the operations of those in maritime transport.”
Pimentel said the mandates of MARINA and PCG are very clear, particularly on the matter of seaworthiness and compliance with safety standards.
“Hence, all we really need is the strict enforcement of these rules. But if the content of the rules is already outdated then we also need to update or modernize the substantive rules,” Pimentel said. — Robertzon Ramirez, Paolo Romero
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