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People jump into the sea to escape raging ferry fire in Gulf of Thailand. All 108 on board are safe

BANGKOK (AP) — Panicked passengers jumped into the sea to escape a raging ferry fire in the Gulf of Thailand early Thursday, and all 108 people on board were safe.

The overnight ferry from Surat Thani province was about to arrive at Koh Tao, a popular tourist destination off the Thai coast, when one of the passengers suddenly heard a crackling sound and smelled smoke.

Maitree Promjampa said he saw billowing smoke and fire less than five minutes later, and that was when people started shouting and rang the alarm.

“We could barely get the life vests in time,” he told The Associated Press. “It was chaotic. People were weeping … I also teared up.”

Of the 108 people on the ferry, 97 were passengers, Surat Thani officials said on Facebook. The province’s public relations department posted that everyone was rescued with no casualties.

Videos showed people hurrying out of the ferry’s cabin while putting on life vests, as thick black smoke swept across the ferry. It was later engulfed in fire.

Maitree, a Surat Thani resident who often travels to Koh Tao for work, said several boats came to their rescue around 20 minutes after they called for help, but the boats could not get close to the ferry out of fear of explosions. He said people had to jump into the sea to be rescued. Videos showed the ferry was also carrying several vehicles.

“Everyone had to help themselves,” he said.

Officials said the fire was since brought under control. It began in the engine, but the cause is being investigated. The ferry did not sink.

The ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Tao carries both commuters and tourists. Koh Tao is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the coast.