Kin of Zambales fishers in boat ramming seek speedy probe, closure
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—As the battered fishing boat (FB) Dearyn floated aimlessly while tied to a dock here on Monday morning, grief-stricken Ailyn Samarita stared blankly nearby.
The 43-year-old widow of the boat’s skipper, Dexter Laudencia, held an unlit white candle while trying to fight back her tears.
“Our boat has returned to us but my husband is no longer coming back. He’s gone forever and this boat reminds me so much of him,” Samarita told the Inquirer.
The ill-fated boat was brought here by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) after nearly a week of retrieval operation from the depth of the sea some 180 nautical miles (333 kilometers) away from here, where it sank after it was rammed by a passing foreign oil tanker on Oct. 2 while FB Dearyn was stationary in the waters off Pangasinan province along the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Samarita also offered prayers during a simple ceremony here and was joined by the relatives and friends of her nephew Romeo Mejico Jr., 38, and fellow fisherman Benedicto Olandria, 63, both of whom died in the sea tragedy along with Laudencia.
The 11 other boat crew members, all from nearby Subic town, Zambales province, who survived the incident were also there to ask the government for immediate assistance and to speed up the investigation.
At a press briefing, PCG Vice Adm. Joseph Coyme, commander of the Maritime Safety Services Command, said their probe has been focused on confirming if the Marshall Islands-flagged MT Pacific Anna was the foreign vessel that struck the victims’ fishing boat.
“As to the issue about the claims, it was already discussed during the Senate hearing. Our senators have established some records in the past about similar claims, and it took years before the victims were compensated,” said Coyme.
He said the PCG had already contacted the shipowners and their representatives to immediately help the victims.
“We have already established our strong theories, and through the presentation of evidence, [the ship’s owners] must help and do their part now because if we subject it to the legal and normal process, it will take a number of years,” Coyme noted.
He added: “Rest assured that the fact-finding committee of PCG will now finalize its investigation as soon as possible because it will really help a lot in pursuing a solid case against the shipowner and the master of the vessel responsible for the collision incident.”
The PCG official said he had instructed the station commander of the coast guard station in Subic to look for a more secured harbor area where they could safely keep the fishing vessel.
After it was towed to this free port, the fishing boat was brought to the PCG substation in nearby Subic town.
“This piece of evidence will be preserved during the investigation, and by the time we have completed the investigation together with the Marshall Islands, we’ll decide whether to release it to the boat owner and somehow conduct its repair,” said Coyme.
He said Marshall Islands should carry out maritime casualty investigations in compliance with the conventions on maritime casualty.
“Early this morning, we informed them about the recovery of the fishing vessel and the flag state is also willing to conduct its own ocular inspection just to complete the process,” said Coyme.
The oil tanker continues its trade across Southeast Asia since PCG has no right to demand its suspension, Coyme said, adding that even after the incident, it still passed through Singapore, Myanmar and Malaysia.
“So far, we can’t demand its suspension because we are not the flag state and we don’t have the physical custody of the vessel,” Coyme said.
He added: “One is certain, and that is that we are exerting our authority as the coastal state administration of the Philippines because the incident happened within our exclusive economic zone.” INQ