A fire breaks out on a ferry carrying more than 130 passengers and crew, leaving at least seven people dead and prompting a search for the missing.

Many of the passengers and crew were forced to jump into the water and others were rescued by vessels in the area.
Many of the passengers and crew were forced to jump into the water and others were rescued by vessels in the area. (AFP)

At least seven people have been killed and scores plucked to safety in the Philippines after a fire ripped through a ferry and forced passengers to jump overboard.

The blaze broke out on the Mercraft 2 at around 6:30 am on Monday (2230 GMT Sunday), as it carried 134 passengers and crew from Polillo Island to Real in Quezon province on the main island of Luzon.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo said 120 people have been rescued while search operations continue for seven people still missing. 

At least 23 people were injured, including the captain of the ferry, according to the coast guard. The boat had a 186-person capacity.

Thick black smoke billowed from the Mercraft as flames tore through the entire vessel, photos shared by the coast guard showed. 

People with life rings and life vests were in the water. Some were rescued by other ferries or clambered into inflatable boats.

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The fire, which apparently started from the engine room, has been put under control and the wreckage towed to shore in Real.
The fire, which apparently started from the engine room, has been put under control and the wreckage towed to shore in Real. (AFP)

Tragedy strikes

The fire appears to have started in the engine room, Balilo said. A team of investigators was preparing to look into the cause.

"We were able to rescue 40 survivors. We have two fatalities," said Captain Brunette Azagra, whose passenger vessel was 500 metres from the Mercraft when the fire broke out.

"They were lucky because we also came from Polillo. They overtook us, but we were just nearby," Azagra told a local radio station, describing sea conditions as "quite good".

The ship was around seven kilometres away from port, Real town disaster officer Ricky Poblete said. 

Speaking from the hospital where the injured were being treated, Poblete said the seven dead had drowned.

Photos posted on the coast guard's Facebook page showed a survivor laying on a stretcher being carried off a ferry. Another lay on the deck of a boat and appeared to be receiving treatment.

The Philippines, an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is plagued by poor sea transport, with its badly regulated boats and ships prone to overcrowding and accidents.

The fire on the Mercraft was under control and the burned-out wreckage towed to shore.

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Source: AFP