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Philippine ferry carrying over 80 passengers catches fire

The passengers were rescued in overnight operations. Most of them had leapt into the sea off Batangas port. All the decks of MV Asia Philippines were gutted.

MANILA, Aug 27: All the passengers of a large ferry carrying over 80 people which caught fire at sea before docking at Batangas port in the Philippines on Friday evening have been rescued by late night, Coast Guard officials said.

Most passengers had leapt into the sea to escape the blaze that engulfed the Starlite Ferries vessel in the evening, local time. The vessel was off the coast of Batangas province in the south of Luzon island when the fire erupted. Local people usually travel between the islands. The MV Asia Philippines was going from Calapan City in Oriental Mindoro and was about to dock at the Batangas port.

Port officials said there were 48 passengers and 33 crew. Philippine Coast Guard and the port police were trying to put out the inferno and save the passengers late into the night.

However, the PCG told reporters: "After checking, our joint team has confirmed that the two allegedly missing passengers took the 5 pm, not the 3 pm vessel trip." Originally listed to travel were 49 passengers and 38 crew. The search and rescue operations have been therefore called off, they said. On board were three students, one minor, two senior citizens and three persons with disability.

Till press time last night the cause of the fire could not be ascertained. It had caught fire in the waters of the Batangas Anchorage. No oil spill was found near MV Asia. About 90 % of the decks were consumed by the fire.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, has very poor sea transport facilities. Accidents are very common.

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