Coast Guard: 14 missing could still be under sunken boat
As the search for the 14 people missing from the June 27 sea collision off Mindoro Island entered its fifth day on Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) raised the possibility that they could still be in their sunken fishing vessel, the Liberty 5.
“We’ll look at every possibility,” Commodore Armando Balilo, the Coast Guard spokesperson, said in a phone interview. “There’s the possibility that they are under the sunken fishing boat, or they might have been swept away elsewhere.”
“The trouble is if they are under [the boat], that’s about 2,000 meters deep,” Balilo said.
He said technical divers may only reach a depth of 100 m.
As hopes of finding survivors dim, the search continues for the captain, 11 crew members and two passengers of Liberty 5, an effort involving three Coast Guard vessels—the BRP Boracay, BRP Malapascua and MCS 3009.
Commodore Leovigildo Panopio of the PCG’s Southern Tagalog Division said “I would rather it still be called a search-and-rescue-slash-retrieval [operation], just in case we find anybody.”
HK ship did not do enough
He said there was still the “possibility” of finding survivors.
Amid rough seas on Saturday night, Liberty 5 and the Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship Vienna Wood collided in the waters off the municipality of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro province.
This prompted the search for the fishing boat’s Capt. Jose Magnes Alfonso, his 11-member crew and passengers Ariel Tabang and Eduardo Manipol.
Although the Vienna Wood sent the Coast Guard a distress signal, the PCG said the cargo ship did not do enough to save the fishermen.
Verifying initial assessment
The Coast Guard is also verifying its initial assessment that the Vienna Wood tried to pull away from the Liberty 5 to give its crew and passengers now at sea a safe distance.
From there on, the cargo ship’s crew could have tried to rescue them but did not, Vice Adm. George Ursabia, commandant of the Coast Guard, said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
Balilo said “we are about to review the AIS (automatic identification system of the Vienna Wood) to see if it truly veered away [from the Liberty 5].”
Vienna Wood’s captain, Zhang Wei Wei, and his crew are currently detained, along with their ship, at the Coast Guard station in Batangas City.
“They are onboard [their] vessel but they are not allowed to leave,” Balilo said.
Panopio said the Coast Guard would file criminal charges against Zhang and his crew.
But Balilo said the probe was still ongoing and the type of criminal case to be filed would depend on the findings of the Coast Guard’s marine casualty investigating team.
Arnold Naval, counsel for Liberty 5 owner Irma Fishing and Trading Inc., earlier said the company would sue the Vienna Wood crew for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple damage to property, and possibly for the death of the fishing boat’s crew and passengers.
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