The ferry was enroute to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight killing at least 31 passengers.
A ferry carrying about 250 passengers and crew caught fire in the southern Philippines and 31 people drowned or died in the blaze and were discovered later, a provincial governor said Thursday.
Many of those rescued had jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 in panic at the height of the fire and were plucked from the sea by the coast guard, navy, another ferry and local fishermen, Governor Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan said on Thursday.
The search and rescue effort was continuing for at least seven missing passengers.
The ferry was enroute to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, he said.
The dead included at least three children, who apparently were separated from their parents, and several passengers were injured and brought to hospitals, he said.
"Some of the passengers were roused from sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship," Hataman told The Associated Press by telephone.
Most of those who died drowned and were recovered at sea, officials said.
The burned ferry has been towed to Basilan's shoreline and an investigation was under way, Hataman said.
At least 23 passengers were injured and brought to hospitals.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of freque nt storms, badly maintained boats, overcrowding and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.
In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
READ MORE: Deadly blaze rips through Philippine ferry