Search and rescue efforts were continuing after nightfall for the passengers and crew of the M/V Asia Philippines, an inter-island cargo and passenger vessel which came from nearby Calapan city in Oriental Mindoro province, the coast guard said.
A 44-year-old woman who was among those rescued was taken to a hospital with unspecified injuries.
Video released by the coast guard showed flames and black smoke billowing from the ferry, which was near other ships more than a kilometer (about a mile) from the Batangas port’s anchorage area, coast guard officials said.
A ship helped coast guard vessels extinguish the fire, they said. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
Passenger Benedict Fernandez told DZMM radio that smoke and flames suddenly rose from the second deck as crew members were apparently trying to turn an engine on and off as the ferry approached the port. There was no immediate order to abandon ship, but when it became hard to see because of the smoke, he said he decided to jump into the water with his two children from the third deck, along with other passengers.
“I pushed my children off because if we didn’t jump from the top, we would really get burned because the soles of our feet were already feeling the heat,” Fernandez said.
They were rescued from the water by another boat that approached the burning ship and then transferred to a tugboat, which brought them to port, he said.
The ferry, which was carrying 48 passengers, 34 crewmembers and 16 vehicles, can carry about 400 passengers, the coast guard said. In the past, there have been instances when ferries carried unlisted passengers in defiance of regulations.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippine archipelago because of frequent 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.