Fishing vessel where 4 crew members died from gas poisoning inspected by DOLE, 8 other agencies

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 14 August) — The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Regional Office 9 and eight other agencies conducted on Friday a joint inspection of a fishing vessel where four crew members, including the boat captain, died on August 5 allegedly due to gas poisoning.

DOLE Regional Director Roy Buenafe said it was a first for nine agencies to come together for a walk-through investigation of Nancy Fishing Corporation’s F/V 558 Julius, instead of holding separate inspections.

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The DOLE regional office on August 6 issued a work stoppage order on the fishing firm, a day after the four crew members died allegedly after inhaling toxic gas inside one of the boat’s compartments.

“This is a unique case, with circumstances that have never happened before,” Buenafe said.

With the DOLE were representatives of the Bureau of Fishery and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), City Disaster and Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO), City Health Office (CHO), and the Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO).

The four crew members who died were boat captain Joseph Oro and third mate Marjon Oro of Sangali in Zamboanga City, and crew members Charlie Caspe and Billy Lamag of Negros Occidental.

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.

The company was required to present to technical inspectors on August 12 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 earlier interview, Philippine Coast Guard  Zamboanga City Division Commander Jesse Guiniling  said their team’s initial findings showed that  around 6 a.m. on August 5, the boat captain instructed Marjon Oro and Lamag to clean the fish storage compartment using a submersible pump to suck the water out. He

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 the 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.

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

He said that after their initial investigation, the 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.”

Buenafe said the DOLE will consolidate the nine agencies’ findings next week.

He said the August 13 inspection enabled BFAR to examine the water specimen, and to check if the stored fish catch contained cyanide.

“BFAR is the agency that looks into the quality of fish passed by the Nancy Fishing Company whether they are free (of) other contaminants.  The samples that were taken were sent to the laboratory,” Buenafe added.

He said DOLE has its own investigation on occupational safety health hazards, particularly on the protocols a fishing company follows, and what transpired in FV 588 Julius.  Kate Santos, DOLE legal officer, handles the occupational health safety investigation (OHSI), he said.

Buenafe said  findings of the OHSI would either lead to the lifting of the work stoppage order the DOLE imposed on August 6 or expand restrictions stipulated in that order.

The management of Nancy Fishing Corp. was advised of all the agencies’ requirements that it must comply with, as each office would submit reports to DOLE 9 on or before August 20,  Buenafe said. (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)