Search for missing fishers suspended

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 December) – Poor weather condition has forced authorities to suspend the search and rescue operations for the more than 300 fishermen from this city and nearby Sarangani Province that remained missing following the onslaught of typhoon “Pablo” three weeks ago.

Navy Commander Lued Lincuna, spokesperson of the Task Force Maritime Search and Rescue SarGen (Sarangani/General Santos City), said Wednesday the rescue vessels and aircrafts involved in the operations are presently on standby mode due to poor visibility and the noted rough weather condition along the search areas off Mindanao’s eastern and southern seas.

“The prevailing weather condition within the search area is not ideal to continue with the search and rescue operations,” he told a local television station.

Lincuna said the operations, which are concentrated along the waters bordering the country and Indonesia, were initially hampered late last week by sporadic rains brought by the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

He said the weather condition further worsened in the last three days due to the entry of tropical storm “Quinta.”

On Monday, the official said one of the rescue vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) was forced to return and take refuge near Balut Island in Davao del Sur after it was met by huge waves while pushing towards the Indonesian waters.

Lincuna said the weather condition within the search area was not expected to improve until tropical storm “Quinta” eventually leaves the country’s area of responsibility on Friday.

“Until then, the search and rescue operations will remain suspended,” he said.

The government earlier commissioned three rescue vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and two others from the Philippine Navy to lead the search and rescue operations.

Two islander planes from the Philippine Air Force and a P-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy were also dispatched to the area to help search for more survivors.

As of Monday, the task force said at least 351 fishermen who were mostly employees of tuna fishing companies based in the city have remained missing while rescuers have so far recovered 17 survivors and 15 fatalities, six of whom were still unidentified.

It said 47 fishing vessels have remained unaccounted after being battered by huge waves and strong winds while on their way towards the mainland of Surigao del Sur last Dec. 3.

The PCG station here earlier said 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.

Lincuna said the search and rescue operations will immediately resume once the weather condition within the search area stabilizes within the next few days.

“We’re still hopeful of finding more survivors. Let’s continue praying that these missing fishermen are still out there and only drifted to a farther location,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)