GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 December) — The number of missing fishermen from this city and nearby Sarangani Province rose to 323 on Wednesday as more small and light fishing boats from the area were reported to have not returned following the onslaught of typhoon “Pablo” a week ago.
Commander Lued Lincuna, spokesperson of the Task Force Maritime Search and Rescue-SarGen (Sarangani/General Santos City), said the increase in figures was mainly due to the inclusion of several “undocumented” fishermen from the city and the neighboring areas that have not yet returned to their homes.
“These are fishermen or fishing operators who ventured out into the sea without any document from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and operated using unregistered small and light fishing boats,” he said.
Lincuna said the “undocumented” fishermen were not included in the list of missing tuna fishing crew members that were earlier obtained by the task force from the PCG station here.
He said they established the identities of the “undocumented” missing fishermen based on the accounts of several survivors and reports consolidated by the city social welfare and development office (CSWDO)
from their families.
Since last week, five “undocumented” fishermen have already been rescued while the remains of two others were recovered off the coasts of Mati in Davao Oriental.
The fatalities were identified as Armando Sedano and Renato Labid, who were both residents of Malapatan town in Sarangani.
A report released by the task force cited that a total of 13 fishermen from the area were already rescued while six fatalities were retrieved.
Two Islander planes commissioned by the task force have been assisting the search and rescue operations for the unaccounted 48 fishing boats and their crew members.
Most of the unaccounted fishing boats, which were owned by at least six tuna fishing companies from this city, had lost contact with their bases here at the height of typhoon “Pablo.”
Joaquin Lu, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries Inc., said some of the missing fishing boats were battered by huge waves and strong winds while on their way to the
mainland of Surigao del Sur last Dec. 3.
“Our fleets had long been taking shelter in portions of Surigao del Sur during bad weather but this time, the typhoon directly hit their course,” he said.
The PCG earlier reported that most of the missing fishing vessels, which were maintaining payaos or fish aggregating devices located around 115 nautical miles off the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, were
already on their way to the nearest ports when the storm caught on them.
Meantime, Lincuna said the number of missing fishermen may still increase as they continue to receive reports regarding several other “undocumented” fishermen who have remained unaccounted.
He said CSWDO personnel, who were conducting trauma and stress debriefing sessions for the relatives of the missing fishermen, are currently processing the reports regarding the other missing fishermen.
Lincuna branded as mere speculation several reports that some of the missing fishermen had been found drifting near Bitung in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
“As of now, based on the reported sightings, our assessment is that they’re still within out territorial waters,” he said.
But he admitted that with the prevailing wind direction going eastward, some of the missing fishermen might eventually drift “downwards to the Indonesian boundary.” (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)