Survivors of storm surge on Sarangani Bay recount ordeal, vow to be smarter next timeBy Aquiles Z. Zonio
MAASIM, Philippines – Aldy Plenos, 22, was heading for home already from three nights at out at sea around 7 a.m. on Tuesday when he tried to save an unidentified fisher whose outrigger boat was smashed by the strong winds and raging waves that had churned up Sarangani Bay.
“He grabbed the rope that I threw at him, but strong waves pounded him away. The rope slid from his hands, then he was gobbled up by a violent sea,” Plenos said.
Soon enough the angry sea battered Plenos’ own outrigger, which was fitted with a 7.5-horsepower engine.
“The outriggers and other parts of my boat, except the body and engine, were destroyed. It capsized but I clung to it firmly, hoping to save even the body and the engine,” Plenos narrated.
“I was already on my way home, but I tried to save a fellow fisherman when I saw him in need of help. In an attempt to save him, I myself figured in a tragedy,” Plenos said.
Plenos and his damaged boat were tossed at sea for about seven hours before he washed ashore ashore somewhere on Kamawal in the Sarangani Islands. He still had his fishing boat and engine all right but his 90-kilo catch stored in ice chests were gone.
“I didn’t expect to survive. When I reached the shoreline of Sarangani Islands, I was worried that waves would pummel me against the rocks. Luckily, I landed on a sandy portion,” Plenos said.
There, he met several other fishermen who had gone through the same ordeal, including the one he had tried to save.
From Sarangani Islands, Plenos and several other fishermen were rescued by fishermen with much larger and sturdier boats. His boat was towed by a fellow survivor from Sarangani Islands to Maasim town.
Plenos’ wife Elsie, 21, had neither slept nor eaten since her husband failed to come home as scheduled on Tuesday. A fisherman since he was 14, Plenos sailed out to sea alone at noon Saturday.
“My father taught me how to fish. I finished first year high school only and we don’t own any land. Fishing is my only means of livelihood,” he said.
Plenos said the thought that kept him alive was of his 2-year-old daughter and his wife.
“I was thinking about the hardship I’ went through while trying to survive. The thought of my wife and baby kept flashing in my mind. I really thank God for giving me a second life,” he said.
Plenos was fixing the engine of his boat when the Inquirer chanced upon him in the coastal village Kamanga here. He said he was staying on land for about two weeks until his boat is fit to sail again.
“My boat was acquired through loan. I”m still paying the remaining P20,000 balance. But because of what happened, it’s back to square one. I have to borrow money again to finish the repairs of my boat,” he said.
Fifty-year-old bachelor Roberto Diaz was not as lucky as Plenos.
Diaz, also a resident of Kamanga village, lost his catch and his boat and everything else in it.
“I failed to save anything except my underwear. I was almost naked when I drifted ashore in Batulaki,” a village in the municipality of Glan, Diaz said.
He said he took his clothes off to swim better. “Clothing makes our body heavier and it hinders our movement. So, better take it off if you want to survive,” he said.
A boatman with 30 years of experience, Diaz endure fatigue and cold temperatures for more than five hours after his boat capsized until he was rescued by a Coast Guard vessel near the shore of Batulaki.
Diaz and seven other fishermen from Kamanga sailed out to sea around 2 p.m. last Monday.
“We prefer to go in a group so when something happens, we could help each other. The weather was good that day. But at around 3 a.m. on Tuesday, strong winds started pummeling us,” he said.
Diaz said he decided to move out of the area around 5 a.m. but by then furious waves had started to batter them.
“In the 30 years that I’ve been a fisherman, this is the first time that I saw 30-foot-high waves on Sarangani Bay. I thought I would die,” Diaz said.
He said years of experience in the high seas taught him how to survive.
“Never swim against the waves. Roll and swim with the currents,” he said.
His friend and neighbor, Agripino Rosales Jr., 37, was lucky his boat sustained minor damage.
Rosales and Diaz left Kamanga in a convoy of eight boats. Only two of them came home with their boats.
Rosales was with his 23-year-old nephew, Jerame Inot, when the storm surge struck.
“The engine of my fishing boat conked out. Big waves brought us near Tahuna Island in Indonesia,” he said.
When the waves subsided, another fishing vessel towed his fishing boat from Tahuna to Maasim.
“This was the fourth time that I survived a sea tragedy. But this is the worst, so far,” he said.
Despite the incident, the three survivors remained unfazed. They plan to continue venturing out to sea to catch fish but smarter next time.
“We learned that we should monitor the weather situation before going out to fish. Weather conditions now are so unpredictable, unlike before,” Rosales said.
As of Friday night, the Provincial Disaster Risk Managaement Office reported that only 37 fishermen from Maasim remain unaccounted for.
The office said a total of 307 fishers have been rescued, so far, and that search-and-rescue operations continued on beaches along Sarangani Bay up to Balut Island in Davao del Sur.