By Teofilo Garcia, Jr.

MISSING. Search continues as the Basilan Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office says 23 passengers of the ill-fated M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 remaining missing as of Tuesday (April 4, 2023). The Bureau of Fire Protection-Manila Arson Team says faulty electrical wiring may have caused the fire that engulfed the ferry in the evening of March 29, 2023 while sailing to Jolo, Sulu from Zamboanga City. (Photo courtesy of Ronda del Basilan)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Search operations continue off an island in Basilan and nearby areas as 23 passengers of the ill-fated M/V Mary Joy 3 remain missing, officials said Tuesday.

Nixon Alonzo, Basilan Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief, said they managed to determine that there are still missing passengers in coordination with the PDRRMO-Sulu and families of the victims.

Alonzo said the youngest among the missing passengers is a 4-year-old girl and the oldest is a 76-year-old woman.

Two of the missing passengers are soldiers: Staff Sgt. Andrew Cerbatos and Pfc. Marion Malda of the Sulu-based 11th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

Ensign Tenessey Charl Rojas, Zamboanga Coast Guard Station deputy commander, said search is ongoing around Baluk-Baluk Island and nearby areas of Hadji Muhtamad town in Basilan province.

M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 caught fire around 11:30 p.m. on March 29 near Baluk-Baluk Island, Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan while sailing to Sulu.

The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and Philippine Coast Guard concluded the search and retrieval operation aboard the vessel on April 1 since they have not found any more cadavers.

Based on the list, Alonzo said there are 28 fatalities not 29 as earlier reported. Twelve are already identified while the remaining 16 are still unidentified.

Senior Superintendent Kadil Acalul, chief of BFP-Basilan, said initial findings of BFP Manila Arson Team pointed to “electrical in nature” or short circuit in the ferry’s electrical wiring that triggered the fire. (PNA)