Video: Philippine Ferry Fire Kills At Least 31 with Search Continuing

ferry fire Philippines
Fire engulfed the passenger areas aboard the ferry (Philippine Coast Guard photo)

Published Mar 30, 2023 11:57 AM by The Maritime Executive

A small inter-island ferry operating in the Sulu Sea in the southern portion of the Philippines caught fire while underway overnight leaving many passengers dead and injured. Officials are struggling to arrive at accurate counts but at the last report, the Coast Guard is saying at least 31 bodies have been recovered but they had been able to access parts of the vessel due to extreme heat. The Coast Guard confirmed 160 survivors while media reports are now saying that approximately 230 passengers and crew survived.

Ferry travel is a common means of transport around the Philippines but has a spotty safety record. It is the second reported incident in the past year. In May 2022, at least seven people were killed in another fire on a ferry.

The Mary Joy 3 was a small combination ferry and cargo ship registered in the Philippines. The 835 gross ton vessel departed Zamboanga for the overnight trip to Jolo both in the southern Basilan province. The Coast Guard received reports of a fire on board at approximately 23:00 on March 29 and immediately sent at least four patrol boats assisted by other SAR teams.

Passengers reported that they awoke to smoke and a spreading fire in the accommodations area of the vessel. Many reportedly jumped into the sea, some with life jackets. Local fishermen also responded assisting with rescuing people from the water.

The captain of the vessel has reportedly told the Coast Guard that he believes the fire began in the passenger accommodations. He said it spread into the galley and then they believe there were explosions possibly from an LPG tank in the galley.



Built in 1990 in Japan, the vessel is 239 feet long and operated by the Aleson Shipping Line. The company started in the 1970s and reports it currently has a fleet of 25 vessels and “has become the dominant shipping operator in Western Mindanao.” The registry indicates they acquired the vessel in 2011.

The Coast Guard is having a difficult time determining how many people were aboard the ferry, saying that the manifest appears to be incomplete and inaccurate. Officials are insisting the vessel was not overloaded. Some reports are saying there were up to 250 people aboard while the Coast Guard said the manifest showed 240 passengers and crew. Some of the survivors are members of the army and coast guard who however are reportedly not appearing on the manifest. It is believed there were 35 crewmembers.


The wreck has been beached in the southern Philippines (Isabela City-DRRM photo)


Passengers were asleep on the lower deck of the vessel when the fire started. An initial search recovered at least 18 bodies from inside the ship but the Coast Guard is saying some sections are still too hot to enter. The vessel was beached with the Coast Guard cutter extinguishing the fire after about eight hours. Among the dead are reports of a six-month-old child as well as several other children. At least several of the people drowned attempting to escape the ship.

Some of the survivors suffered minor burns and bruises. They have been taken to local hospitals.

The Coast Guard has begun an investigation while continuing the search of the vessel and the surrounding waters.