Coast Guard calls off search for missing vessel crew in Sarangani sea mishap

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/10 August) – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) called off on Wednesday afternoon the search and rescue operations for the two missing crew members of a cargo vessel that sank off Sarangani Bay Tuesday night after colliding with a foreign container carrier.

Cmdr. Roy Echeverria, commander of the PCG station here, told reporters that the missing crewmen of the sunken M/V Bulk Carrier 1, who were identified as chief engineer Juanito Minoy and apprentice engineer Edward Paler, were so far presumed dead and believed trapped inside the ill-fated vessel’s engine room.

He said Minoy and Paler were last seen by their fellow crew members working inside the engine room of M/V Bulk Carrier 1 before it collided with Liberian-flagged container carrier M/V HS Puccini around 7:45 p.m. near the coasts of Maasim town in Sarangani province.

“We called off the search and rescue operation because it was confirmed (by the survivors) that the two missing crew members went down with the ship,” Echeverria told reporters.

The official said it may be impossible to retrieve the bodies of the two crewmen due to the depth of the area where the vessel has sunk.

“It’s around 400 to 500 fathoms deep. Multiply that by six so it’s around 3,000 feet. That would be impossible for our divers to reach,” Echeverria said.

The two were among the confirmed 23 officers and crew members who were aboard M/V Bulk Carrier 1 when the incident happened around five to seven nautical miles off Tampuan Point along the Sarangani Bay, according to a PCG report.

M/V Bulk Carrier 1, which was carrying 16,000 bags of corn grits from Sultan Kudarat province, left the Makar Wharf here for Dumaguete City at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Monrovia, Liberia-registered M/V HS Puccini, which is operated by shipping firm American President Lines, originated from Hong Kong and was initially expected to arrive here at 11 p.m. Tuesday after making a stop in Davao City.

Sixteen of the survivors were initially rescued near the collision scene while five others were found near the shores of Barangay Lumatil in Maasim after reportedly drifting and swimming in the area for about eight hours.

The 21 survivors arrived at the Makar Wharf here around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday aboard the PCG’s patrol craft DF-315.

Six of the survivors who sustained some injuries were immediately brought by a waiting ambulance to the St. Elizabeth Hospital for treatment.

M/V Bulk Carrier 1 captain Pedrito Serencio told reporters that they were cruising at maximum speed of 7.8 knots near the entry point of Sarangani Bay Tuesday night when M/V HS Puccini came rushing and eventually hit the “left fourth quarter side” or engine area of their vessel.

“It was raining hard that time and we had zero visibility. We did not see the ship (HS Puccini) coming until it hit us,” he said.

Serencio said the collision caused major damage to their ship, forcing them to immediately abandon it.

As to the fate of the two missing crewmen, he said they may have not have survived the impact of the collision, which crushed the ill-fated ship’s engine room.

“They (Minoy and Paler) were on duty at the engine room at that time,” Serencio said.

Meantime, Echeverria said PCG personnel who responded to the collision scene confirmed an oil spill coming from the sunken cargo vessel covering an estimated two hectares of the area.

But he immediately allayed fears of a possible major damage to the area’s resources, citing the spilled oil was mainly industrial diesel and not bunker fuel.

“It’s not quite alarming since industrial diesel oil just spreads and separates in the water and easily precipitates,” Echeverria said.

But he said they would still monitor the extent of the oil spill and conduct some remedial measures to prevent them from further spreading to the nearby coastal areas. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)