A fire broke out on a ferry in the southern Philippines and raged for eight hours overnight, killing at least 31 of the roughly 250 passengers and crew, authorities said Thursday.

Many of the more than 200 people who survived the fire jumped from the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea by the coast guard, the navy, a nearby ferry and local fishermen, Gov. Jim Hataman of the island province said. southern. of Basilan. Rescuers were still searching Thursday for at least seven missing people, he said.

Hataman said the burned-out ferry was towed to the Basilan coast, where the bodies of 18 of the 31 victims were discovered in an economy section of the passenger cabin.

“These victims perished on board due to the fire,” Hataman said by phone. He said it’s possible there were more people on the ferry who weren’t listed on his manifest.

However, the ferry’s captain told the coast guard that he tried to ground the burning ferry on the nearest shoreline to allow more people to survive or be rescued, Coast Guard regional commander Rejard Marfe said. The fire raged for about eight hours, he said.

The Philippine Coast Guard tackles a fire aboard the Lady Mary Joy 3, in the waters off Baluk-Baluk Island on March 29, 2023. Philippine Coast Guard / AFP – Getty Images

The ferry was traveling to the city of Jolo in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire off Basilan around midnight, Hataman said. At least 23 passengers were injured and were taken to hospitals.

“Some of the passengers woke up from their sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the boat,” Hataman said.

The steel-hulled ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, Marfe said. According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a crew of 35, she said. In addition, she had a security contingent made up of four coast guard bailiffs and an unspecified number of soldiers who were not listed in the manifest for her protection, Marfe said.

He said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, whether there were any passengers not listed on the manifest and whether the crew properly guided the passengers to safety.

Maritime accidents are common in the Philippines due to frequent storms, dilapidated vessels, overcrowding, and irregular enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.

In December 1987, the ferry Doña Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.