3 fishers’ kin demand justice: ‘The ocean was their life’
SUBIC, Zambales—A pall of gloom descended in Barangay Calapandayan here on Wednesday evening with the arrival of the bodies of three fishermen in the latest and worst maritime tragedy to befall this coastal community.
“This is too painful for us. We lost three people all at the same time,” said Lina Laudencia, 44, whose brother Dexter Laudencia died after being trapped inside the fishing boat FFB Dearyn following its collision with a passing foreign vessel early Monday in waters off Pangasinan.
Laudencia, 46, the captain, sustained severe head and chest injuries when the boat split in half before capsizing due to the impact of the collision.
The accident also claimed the lives of Laudencia’s nephew, Romeo Mejico Jr., 38, and fellow fisherman, Benidecto Olandria, 63, who both failed to jump out of the boat in time to save themselves.
“We’ve encountered all sorts of accidents at sea, but this is the worst of its kind,” said Lina, who lost another relative four years ago when he went missing while fishing in the open sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said its initial investigation of the collision pointed to the crude oil tanker Pacific Anna as the vessel that hit the Dearyn, based on the fishermen’s accounts and maritime traffic at the time of the accident.
On Thursday, the PCG said it was already coordinating with the ship’s flag state Marshall Islands, as well as authorities in Singapore where the 250-meter-long Pacific Anna was docked on its port around 2 p.m. Thursday.
Speaking with reporters at the PCG headquarters in Manila, PCG commandant Adm. Artemio Abu said he wrote the transportation minister of Marshall Islands to look into the maritime incident, as the flag state would be responsible if a ship is found liable for a maritime incident.
Abu said he ordered a marine casualty investigation and invited the survivors to Manila to shed light on the incident. “We will shoulder their travel expenses, so we can ensure that we get firsthand information,” he said.
Upon the completion of the investigation report, it will be submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs for the appropriate diplomatic action, according to Abu.
In a television interview, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said: “We are expecting that with the coordination of the PCG, port state control officers of Singapore will board the Pacific Anna to investigate what really happened.”
Abu maintained that the maritime tragedy was not related to the rising tensions between the country and China in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
He also clarified that the collision between the Dearyn and the foreign vessel did not happen in the vicinity of Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, as earlier reported, but in waters off Pangasinan province.
Call for compensation
Panatag is a traditional fishing ground within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone but it has been under China’s control since 2012. It is also one of the sites of recurring tensions between Philippine and Chinese vessels.
The victims’ relatives called on the government to run after the oil tanker and compensate them for the deaths.
“We don’t want a similar incident to happen again. We’ve lost too many lives already. This was not the first time but I hope it will be the last,” Lina said.
Mejico’s mother, Evelyn, 64, had to travel from Mindoro to Subic to get a last glimpse of her son.
“I almost fainted when I heard the news. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t move my knees. I couldn’t believe he’s gone too soon, leaving her five young children behind,” Evelyn told the Inquirer in between sobs.
She said she was hoping that President Marcos would hold the culprits accountable and that the government would provide financial assistance to the victims’ children.
“All my son wanted was to send his children to school. He worked hard for that, and he even set aside his plan to go abroad because he didn’t want to leave his children here,” Evelyn said.
She said the other boat crew who survived the tragedy were “heroes” for not leaving their dead companions behind.
“If not for them, I wouldn’t see my son even for the last time. I thank them for retrieving the body of my son and that of the two others,” she said.
Johnny Manlolo, 40, one of the survivors, said that around 3 a.m. on Monday, eight of the 14-man crew sailed in their small service boats to fish in the sea some 380 km off this town, while the six others, including Manlolo, remained on the mother boat.
Two others, Mandy An, 22, and Reymar Bautista, said they swam out of the boat, leaving the three others behind.
“I heard someone telling us we have to find our way out because they could no longer help us,” An said. “I pushed on, and dove beneath the boat just to get free.”
Lina said she prayed that the victims’ deaths would not be in vain.
“They died while trying to provide for their family, especially their young children. The ocean was their life. I hope the government will seek justice for them,” she said.