Fishing company given work stoppage order after 4 crew members died of ‘gas poisoning’

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ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 10 August) — A fishing company has been issued a work stoppage order after four crew members of its fishing vessel died allegedly after inhaling a toxic gas inside one of the boat’s compartments, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Regional Office 9 said.

DOLE-9 Director Roy Buenafe said the order was issued Friday afternoon, Aug. 6, to Nancy Fishing Corporation, owner of Fishing Vessel 558 Julius.

The alleged gas poisoning incident occurred last Thursday, Aug. 5, off the coastal village of Talisayan, this city.

The victims were identified as boat captain Joseph Oro, third mate Marjon Oro, both residents of Sangali, Zamboanga City, and crew members Charlie Caspe and Billy Lamag, both from Negros Occidental.

They were brought to local hospitals but three of them were declared dead on arrival. The fourth died around 12 noon.

The Oros died of asphyxia secondary to drowning, while Caspe and Lamag succumbed to acute respiratory distress syndrome secondary to toxic inhalation of unknown gas, according to the attending physicians.

Buenafe said that before he issued the work stoppage order, Nancy Fishing Corporation was given 24 hours to submit a safety investigation report as required by Republic Act No. 11058 and Department Order No. 198, series of 2018.

“While the WSO is directed only to the vessel, DOLE is looking into all similar vessels (fish carriers) that might have similar or in a related situation,” he said.

The official added they have formed a technical working group composed of DOLE, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and other agencies, and “agreed to do measures in order to prevent similar experience with other deep sea fishing companies with similar maritime vessels particularly fish carriers.”

The company has been required to present on Aug. 12 to technical inspectors its standard operating procedures in opening its hull, a document showing that the victims and the rest of the crew members had personal protective equipment, and a safety and health program identifying common hazards and measures to reduce and prevent risks for workers.

In an interview, PCG Zamboanga City Division Commander Jesse Guiniling said the PCG Safety Investigation Team is doing its own investigation.

According to the team’s initial findings, around 6 a.m. Thursday, Joseph Oro instructed Marjon Oro and Lamag to clean the fish storage compartment using a submersible pump to suck the water out.

The boat captain specifically ordered his men to remove the water that had accumulated due to the melted ice that was mixed with fragments of decomposing fish in said compartment.

The PCG report quoted the boat’s chief engineer, Sonny Morales, as saying that after a few minutes, Oro and Lamag began shouting for help as they experienced shortness of breath and dizziness.

The boat captain and Caspe proceeded to the fish storage compartment to help, but they also experienced the same symptoms.

Morales went to the upper deck and found his four colleagues already unconscious inside the fish storage compartment. He then informed their company about the incident and directed other mariners to assist in rescuing the victims.

Chief Mate Juanito Ibañez Jr. maneuvered the vessel towards YL Wharf in Barangay Talisayan, where they arrived around 7 a.m.

Guiniling said the medical explanation was “interpreted with clarity as gas poisoning.”

He said that after their initial investigation DOLE ordered the boat cordoned and not to be touched “until technical experts with complete safety apparatus and equipment to identify the gaseous and poisonous substance.”

“We never thought that these fishing companies are keeping spoiled fish which are mixed with the stored catch,” Buenafe said.

He said only the experts’ findings would erase speculations on what really caused the death of the four crew members.

Julius Daniel, the company’s operations manager has assured the victims’ families of assistance, including scholarships for their children. (Frencie L. Carreon/MindaNews)