Probe of Quezon ferry fire starts
MANILA, Philippines — The government has formed a team to determine the cause of the fire that engulfed a passenger ferry off the coast of Real, Quezon on Monday, leaving seven people dead and 24 others injured.
“Investigation is ongoing. We’re looking at all angles,” said Commodore Armand Balilo, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson.
Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Administrator Robert Empedrad said a team from the agency was conducting safety investigation, particularly looking at the seaworthiness of MV Mercraft 2. The ferry, which came from Polillo Island, was carrying 134 passengers and crew when the fire broke out as it was approaching the port of Real early Monday.
According to Balilo, the vessel’s captain, John Lerry Escareces, is already under the custody of the PCG. Among the seven people who died in the fire was the captain’s mother, Charito Escareces, 57.
“We have the captain in custody and any time, we can also call in the crew members,” he said, adding that they expected the probe to be completed in a week, after which a report would be submitted to the Department of Transportation.Balilo said that initial inquiries with surviving passengers showed that some of them heard an explosion from the engine room.
“If the fire started in the engine room, the crew there would not have survived. But that would also be part of the investigation. We will determine if there is or who is at fault, who should be held accountable,” he said in a television interview.
Balilo added that the owners and operators of MV Mercraft 2 might face criminal charges and franchise suspension depending on the result of the investigation.
“Should the investigation reveal negligence on the part of the company, its franchise may be suspended and those liable could face appropriate charges. It all depends on the evidence and the direction of the investigation. If proven that they’re culpable, cases may be filed against them,” he said.
Balilo said the fast craft is not very old. “But we do not know if it is prone to fire because it is made of fiberglass. The vessel passed the standards, so we assume that it is seaworthy,” he added.
In Quezon, the shipping company has started extending assistance to the victims and families of the fatalities, according to Filomena Portales, Real municipal administrator and incident command post spokesperson.
“They are preparing burial assistance … Six fatalities have been taken to their families, with the company paying for their coffins and transport costs,” Portales said in a text message.
She said a company representative would visit those in hospitals and extend financial aid.
All passengers and crew have been accounted for, the Quezon police reported Monday night.
Reports said only two injured passengers were still confined in a hospital in Infanta town. The rest have been transferred to hospitals in Metro Manila and Lucena City.
Polillo Mayor Cristina Bosque, in a telephone interview on Tuesday, said the local government had ordered the vessel’s owner, Mercraft Shipping Corp., to “indefinitely stop” its operation in the town.
The Marina suspended the MV Mercraft 2’s safety certificate following the accident but the vessel had been rendered unserviceable following the fire. Its charred wreckage had been towed to the shore of Baluti Island at Barangay Cawayan in Real.
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