GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 December)—Rescuers have widened their search on Thursday for hundreds of fishermen from this city and nearby Sarangani province who have remained missing following last week’s onslaught of Typhoon Pablo.
Commander Lued Lincuna, spokesperson of the Task Force Maritime Search
and Rescue-SarGen (Sarangani/General Santos City), said rescue teams have extended their search area towards portions of the Pacific Ocean and the territorial waters of Indonesia, where some of the missing tuna fishing vessels and their crew members were believed to have drifted.
“As of today, we’re still on search and rescue mode. We’re continually praying and hoping to locate more survivors,” he said in a press briefing at the task force’s base at Camp Fermin Lira here.
As of noon Thursday, the task force reported that the number of missing fishermen has increased to 343 as more missing “undocumented” fishermen were reported to the task force by their families and relatives.
It described the “undocumented” fishermen as those who ventured out
into the seas without documents from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)
and operated unregistered fishing boats.
The rescuers have so far recovered 17 survivors and eight fatalities, six of whom were still unidentified.
The report said most of the missing fishermen were crew members of 46 fishing vessels from the city that remained unaccounted since losing contact with their bases here at the height of the weather disturbance.
The missing fishing vessels were owned by local tuna fishing firms Rugela Fishing, RAFI, DCG/PNOY, LPS Fishing, Salazar/Thidcor Fishing and RLG Fishing.
Three of the missing vessels were identified as M/BCA Starey, FBCA Jerlyn and the “undocumented” FBCA Eagle 2.
Most of the fishing boats reportedly went missing after being battered by huge waves and strong winds while on their way towards the mainland of Surigao del Sur last December 3.
The PCG station here earlier said that most of the missing fishing vessels, which were maintaining payao’s 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.
Lincuna said the two Islander aircraft commissioned by the task force are presently assisting the search and rescue operations being conducted by vessels from the PCG, Philippine Navy/Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and members of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc.
He said the United States Navy has sent one of its Japan-based P-3C Orion aircraft to Manila on Thursday morning to augment the aerial search (see related story).
The official said the ongoing rescue operation, which is now on its eighth day, is concentrated along the southern part of the eastern seaboard of Mindanao.
“The prevailing wind and current is going downwards so the drift of the missing fishermen and the vessels is from north going southwest or towards the Indonesian seas,” he said.
Lincuna said that on Wednesday, the two Islander aircraft were allowed by Indonesia to enter its territorial air space “for the purpose of search and rescue.”
City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio said none among the unaccounted fishing vessels have been so far sighted but they remain hopeful that they’re still in the area and only drifted further into the open seas.
“We’re hoping that it’s still a case of loss of communication due to damaged equipment, engine trouble and loss of fuel,” she said.
The mayor said the task force, which is spearheaded by the city government, is continually drawing up possible measures and strategies to further hasten the ongoing search and rescue operations.
Aside from coordinating the search and rescue operations, she said they are also attending to the needs of the families of the missing fishermen and the rescued survivors.
She said the task force, through personnel from the city social welfare and development office, has so far processed 90 of them for stress debriefing. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)