WHY WAS FUN RIDE FATAL?

Banana boat mid-sea collision probed

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A day after a female Korean tourist was killed at sea while taking a fun ride on an inflated “banana boat,” a closer look is being taken at safety issues in aqua sports in the Mactan Channel.

“I can say everybody has to be more careful,” said Charlie Shin, vice president of the Cebu Korean Association.

“I hope this will not affect tourist arrivals in Cebu.”

Police said charges of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide will be filed today against the driver of the Jet Ski pulling the banana boat and the boatman of a motorized pump boat with 20 other Koreans on board, which collided with the group of five Korean women Sunday noon.

It’s up to the prosecutor to decide who’s at fault, said police officials.

The mishap took place about 12 o’clock off Looc, Maribago in Lapu-Lapu City.

The impact killed 50-year-old Ji Sung Sook and sent two of her friends to the hospital with bruises and head injuries.

Sook’s husband and son arrived in Cebu last night to arrange for the victim’s remains to be flown back to South Korea after an autopsy is done.

The woman was in Cebu with four female friends for a vacation, according to Shin.

Like typical tourists, the group, which was staying at Maribago Bluewater Resort, wanted to try all water sports available, said Shin, and arranged for a banana boat ride with a dive shop.

Mactan, a popular leisure destination, hosts several resorts that offer guests a choice of aqua sports, which has increased the traffic of jet skis and pump boats in sea lanes.

The situation prompted the Lapu-Lapu city government to enact an ordinance last Aug. 17 regulating their operation and setting safety standards.

In Sunday’s accident, police said operators of the water sports facilities were unable to present licenses and registration papers. They were given until today to do so.

Chief Insp. Zenaido Pastorfide Jr., chief of the homicide section, said the drivers violated “most of the provisions” of Lapu-Lapu City Ordinance No. 256-2011.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is set to meet tourism stakeholders in Mactan to discuss safety precautions in aqua sports.

DOT Regional Director Rowena Montecillo said the collision was an “isolated case” but that she would meet with dive shop owners and boat operators to discuss safety regulations after the police completes its investigation.

“We have established safety regulations on these activities. It’s just a matter of enforcing them properly,” Montecillo told Cebu Daily News.

Montecillo said the DOT is coordinating with the Korean community in Cebu and their consulate office in Manila to seek assistance for the Korean tourists involved in the mishap.

She said there are designated areas in Mactan for Jet Skis and island hopping for boats set by the local government.

“We are still waiting for the final report from the police about the incident. We have no complete details of the incident yet,” Montecillo said.

She said dive shop owners and other facilities that provide aqua sports in Mactan undergo training and orientation on safety regulations before they are accredited by the DOT.

“We always remind the resorts to be safe,” Montecillo said.

“Accidents do happen. This is is an isolated case,” she said, and emphasized it would not affect the tourism industry in Mactan.

If business owners are found at fault in the police investigation, they stand to have their DOT accreditation suspended, she said.

Koreans are the biggest foreign group of tourists in Cebu.

The two injured Korean women were still confined in the hospital yesterday but were declared out of danger by physicians.

Lee Og Kynang, 56, and Park Mi Su, 52, had injuries in the head and bruises in the body.

The management of Maribago Bluewater Resort, where they were staying, and the Jet Ski’s operator Cecilio Ycot assisted in the hospitalization and other needs of their guests.

Based on their passports, the Koreans arrived in Cebu last Nov. 12 and were to stay on until Dec. 3.

Based on initial police investigation, the banana boat was being towed by a Jet Ski driven by Giovanni Paquibot, 38, from Sabang, Olango Island. He was about to bring the passengers to some coral reefs.

The motorized pump boat manned by Alsin Tongco, 33, of Tingo, Olango Island, was bringing 20 Korean tourists to Olango for “island hopping.”

Tongco said the jet ski suddenly crossed their path and it was difficult for him to maneuver away.

Investigator PO2 Luisito Ernie said it seemed that the Jet Ski driver was looking at the opposite direction and failed to notice the presence of the pump boat when the mishap occurred.

Police said the Marta Dive Shop contacted a Jet Ski operator for the resort guests and Jetmaster provided the five-seater banana boat.

The women were all equipped with life jackets and were briefed on the do’s and don’ts about riding the inflated boat by dive shop personnel.

Paquibot, the Jet Ski driver, said that while they were traveling away from the resort, a motorized pump boat suddenly crossed their path.

“I didn’t notice the pump boat coming until it was too late. I tried to steer to the left but the banana boat behind me was hit because the towing rope was long,” said Paquibot in Cebuano.

Paquibot immediately swam and rescued passengers floating unconscious in the sea. The crew of the motorized boat sought help from a passing Jet Ski. The three Korean women were brought to the Mactan Doctors’ Hospital.

Among the provisions of the Lapu-Lapu City ordinance regulating aqua sports:

1. The Water Sports Instructor or assistant water Sports Instructor should have a valid national/ internationally recognized teaching status to instruct any water sport.

2. A mayor’s permit and license is needed by operators.

3. Jet Skis or similar sports equipment must have body numbers painted on them or stickers for easy identification.

4. Jet Skis must observe “extreme caution” not to cause waves in its wake so as not to disturb or imperil bathers, snorkelers and divers in the area between the shoreline/beachfront and the ledge. They must “move slowly” within these areas.

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza said she was saddened by Sunday’s accident and hopes operators of recreational sports facilities will take the proper precautions.

“We in the city are not lacking in ensuring the safety of guests in resorts. If there’s anything that still has to be amended in the ordinance, maybe we should do that,” she said. Candeze R. mongaya, Norman V. Mendoza and Carmel Loise Matus

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