Demands for Reform in the Wake of Philippine Ferry Fire

ferry fire wreck
The wreck was beached where the search continues (Philippine Coast Guard photos)

Published Mar 31, 2023 7:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

There are growing calls for reforms in the Philippines in the aftermath of this week’s tragedy when another inter-island ferry caught fire resulting in casualties and scenes of devastation. The primary agencies overseeing the shipping sector responded with a series of steps while the country’s senate is also demanding actions and planning an investigation.

 The Bureau of Fire Protection declared the fire aboard the passenger-cargo ferry Lady Mary Joy 3 officially out as of 7:30 a.m. om March 30, 10 hours after the first reports of a fire in the passenger areas of the vessel. Survivors continue to tell the authorities that the fire began in the passenger areas and that there was chaos aboard the vessel. Many people jumped into the water to escape. The vessel came to rest on the shore.

The Lady Mary Joy 3 had departed Zamboanga City for an overnight trip to Jolo, Sulu in the southern Philippines on March 29. Reports of the fire began around 10:30 p.m. while the vessel was near Baluk-Baluk Island where it has come to rest.



As of this morning the Coast Guard along with multiple agencies are continuing the search and retrieval operation. Several teams and vessels remain in the area continuing to look for the missing. Initially they said sections of the vessel were too hot to reach and crews had to be pulled back at one point because of the dangers. Pictures released by the Coast Guard show scenes of total devastation demonstrating the intensity of the fire. 

The Coast Guard revised its report now saying that 29 people were known to have died in the fire, down from a report of 31, but that seven people remain missing. Eleven of the casualties drowned and they have been identified. The 18 bodies recovered from the vessel are badly burned and awaiting DNA testing for positive identification. Media reports previously said that several children including one infant were among the dead.

The survivor count has been set at 216 with the Coast Guard believing a total of 252 individuals were aboard. This included 205 passengers and 35 crew. There were also eight Army personnel and four Coast Guard personnel traveling on the vessel. Earlier reports said the manifest for the vessel was incomplete and inaccurate.




“The MV Lady Mary Joy 3 tragedy brings back memories of neglect and problems [with] corruption in the enforcement of safety of seagoing vessels and where passengers ships [or] vessels serve practically as floating coffins because of their lack of safety,” said Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva in a prepared statement. The senate is calling for an investigation into both the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Philippine Coast Guard. They want to know the steps taken by the agencies for enforcement of rules regarding seaworthiness, safety requirements, and manning of all vessels operating in the Philippines.

For its part, MARINA issued several directives in the hours after the tragedy. They have ordered a full survey of all the vessels of the Aleson Shipping Lines. Media reports said the shipping company has not made a public statement. On its website the company called itself the dominate shipping operator in Western Mindanao with a fleet of 25 ships.

The regulators ordered Aleson to attend to all of victims and their families. They were ordered to pay for the medical attention of the survivors and to provide financial and other assistance to the survivors and the families of the deceased.

MARINA has also ordered compliance monitoring regarding the safety regulations and necessary steps to  prevent similar incidents. They also released a reminder for engine room crews, crew working in other parts of vessels, and passengers on the steps to guard against fires.