GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 Aug) – The Indonesian government repatriated at least 16 crew members — including the body of a vessel captain who reportedly died while in detention — of a fishing boat from this city who were arrested earlier this year for allegedly fishing illegally within its territorial waters.
Petty Officer 1 Efren Nacional, chief master-at-arms of the Philippine Coastguard station here, said the repatriates arrived Friday morning aboard vessel KM Pacific 203 owned by the RD Group of Companies, less than a week after they were released from detention in Bitung, North Sulawesi province in Indonesia.
He said among those repatriated was the body of the fishing vessel’s captain, identified as Nicanor Marcellana. But mystery still shrouds the case as the company who owns the vessel used by the crew said Marcellana was not the captain of F/B Queen Angel.
Nacional said the other fishing crew members were released to their custody this morning for proper documentation and were later turned over to personnel from the City Social welfare and Development Office.
“They were in good shape and were very grateful that they were able to return home after their ordeal,” he said.
Based on the Coastguard’s documentation, the repatriated fishermen were crew members of F/B Queen Angel, a handline tuna fishing boat reportedly connected to a company owned by businessman Roger Lim.
It said two of the repatriated fishing crew members were minors — one is 17 and the other 14.
Lim, owner of GenSan Aqua Traders Inc. that finances tuna handline fishing operations of fishing boats from this city, is reportedly out of town and could not be reached for comment.
But an employee of GenSan Aqua Traders confirmed in a phone interview that F/B Queen Angel is indeed one of the tuna handline fishing boats that was financed by the company.
The source clarified that Marcellana, the deceased fishing boat captain, was not the skipper of F/B Queen Angel.
City Councilor Ronnel Rivera, who is vice president of RD Group of Companies, said the repatriates were detained for at least four months in Bitung, Indonesia after their fishing boat was held by Indonesian naval authorities for fishing illegally in its tuna-rich territorial waters.
After receiving a report regarding the case, he said his office immediately coordinated with the Philippine Consulate in Manado, Indonesia to facilitate the crew’s release and their repatriation.
“Indonesia actually released 30 fishermen but only 16 were repatriated as some of them chose to remain there to seek possible employment,” he said.
Rivera said his newly-established socio-civic initiative, RCR (Ronnel C. Rivera) Foundation Inc., will initially provide some basic assistance to the repatriated fishermen.
He vowed to offer possible job placements for them through in the RD Group’s tuna fishing fleets. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)