Three people were killed and over 240 plucked to safety in the southern Philippines Wednesday after a fire tore through a crowded ferry, authorities said, as rescuers hunted for more survivors.
The blaze broke out before dawn as the Lite Ferry 16 was cruising to Dapitan City from Cebu, prompting some of the terrified passengers to throw themselves overboard, one witness said.
It is not clear how many passengers were on the vessel, but the Philippine Coast Guard said 245 people had so far been rescued, and three confirmed dead.
The boat's official manifest listed just 172 passengers and crew.
The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.
Coast Guard spokesman Captain Armand Balilo said search and rescue operations were continuing as authorities worked to determine the exact number of people on the boat.
"We have ordered the captain to explain the discrepancy," Balilo told AFP.
The ferry's operator, Danilo Lines, said a team was deployed to assist the rescued passengers and tugboats dispatched to bring the stricken ferry back to port.
Some 30 years ago another Philippine ferry, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker in an accident that claimed more than 4,000 lives in the world's worst peacetime disaster at sea.