Manila Superferry 14 Fire – 2004

Sandwiched between the South China Sea in Lite west and the Philippine Sea in the east, the Philippines is a sprawling mass of a country consisting of over 7,000 islands. Its 85 million inhabitants are spread over 2,000 of them and linking them by boat is essential to the economy of the country. Unfortunately, the Philippines is no stranger to maritime tragedy as rough seas, collisions and conflagrations have all taken a heavy toll.

As the name implies, Superferry 14 was no ordinary ship. Trumpeted as a ‘festival’ ship, it came into service in 2000 and brought luxury to what is normally a prosaic journey to and from the capital. Features included a business center, lavish dining rooms, a beauty salon and even a karaoke bar.

Late in the evening of February 26 2004, the ferry left the capital and set out across Manila Bay on its journey to Bacolod City. Two hours into its journey it sent out a distress signal. An explosion near the engine room had caused extensive damage and the vessel lurched to one side as flames ripped through it. Of the 900 or so on board, those nearest to the fire were in the greatest danger and many jumped, burning, into the sea. Fortunately the US marines were doing exercises nearby and were on hand to assist the overwhelmed local coastguards with the rescue. However, more than 100 people lost their lives, although only 63 bodies were recovered.

Some five months after the disaster, it was revealed that the explosion on board had been caused by a bomb. The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf had tried to extort money from the ferry’s owner and, when they were rebuffed, sent one of their operatives on board with a bomb placed inside a television set.

When: February 27 2004

Where: Manila Bay, Philippines

Death toll: The official death toll is 116.

You should know: Abu Sayyaf is an Islamist separatist group which has a long history of extortion in order to fund its part in an insurgency in the south of the country. It came to worldwide prominence when, in 2000, foreign hostages were taken in the diving resort of Sipadan. A ransom of $25 million dollars was paid by Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi which secured their release. Gaddafi’s motives were questionable and the money paid was seen as aid for a cause he supported.

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