Manila, Philippines — Three Filipino fishermen were killed while 11 others were injured when a foreign crude oil tanker rammed a mother fishing boat moored some 85 nautical miles off Panatag Shoal before dawn last Monday, according to authorities.
In a report sent to the media yesterday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) identified the three fatalities as FFB Dearyn captain Dexter Laudencia, 47, and his crewmen Romeo Mejeco, 38, and Benedicto Olandria, 62, all from Barangay Calapandayan in Subic, Zambales
The three reportedly drowned and were declared dead by municipal health officer Dr. Marjorie Piga of Infanta, Pangasinan, where they were brought after the incident.
A report from the Philippine National Police-Pangasinan Provincial Office identified the 11 other fishermen as Johnny Manlolo, 40; Estelito Sumayang, 50; Mario An, 50; Mandy An, 22; Michel An, 37; Gino Arpon, 30; John Michel Nogas, 37; Noriel Tolores, 27; William Asuntista, 39; Darwin Mejia, 32, and Reymark Bautista, 30, all crew members of the ill-fated fishing boat and residents of Subic, Zambales.
They were brought to the rural health unit of Infanta for medical examination and assessment.
Based on the initial details given by the survivors, it appeared that a collision might have taken place between FFB Dearyn and MT Pacific Anna, a crude oil tanker registered under the flag of Marshall Islands, that resulted in the capsizing of the fishing boat and drowning of the three fishermen.
“After cross-referencing the fishermen’s accounts, the date and time, we conducted a thorough check on marine traffic. It turns out that Pacific Anna, a crude oil tanker vessel registered under the flag of Marshall Islands, aligns with the details provided by the fishermen,” the PCG said.
It also intends to “reach out to the flag of the vessel and the next port that the vessel will visit, to be boarded by port state control officers.”
PCG spokesman Rear Admiral Armand Balilo, however, said the details they have initially gathered are not yet conclusive. “We are still conducting an investigation and that we are treating this matter as a maritime incident,” he said.
“The PCG is committed to ensuring a thorough and impartial investigation into this tragic incident… The PCG extends our deepest condolences to the families and love ones” of the deceased, PCG-West Philippine Sea (WPS) spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela said.
FFB Dearyn served as the mother fishing boat of the 14 crewmen during their fishing activities in Bajo de Masinloc, which is also referred to as Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal.
Accounts of the fishermen who survived indicated that FFB Dearyn was moored to a “payao” some 85 nautical miles northwest of the shoal at around 4:20 a.m. last Monday.
At the time, eight of the 14 crewmen were reportedly engaged in fishing activities in six different locations away from FFB Dearyn, while six others remained on board the mother boat.
The PCG said that poor visibility in the area as well as the weather condition might have contributed to the maritime incident.
“Due to adverse weather conditions causing darkness, the crew on board the mother boat failed to detect an unidentified vessel approaching, resulting in a collision (on the starboard side) that caused the mother boat to capsize,” it added.
The three other fishermen who were aboard the mother ship reportedly had difficulty in retrieving the bodies of the three fatalities because of the inclement weather.
By 8 a.m. of Monday, the eight other fishermen returned to the supposed location of FFB Dearyn and rescued the three survivors as well as the three deceased fishermen that were inside the pilot house.
Using their eight service boats, the 11 survivors and three deceased fishermen returned to Barangay Cato, Infanta, Pangasinan.
Barangay captain Napoleon Domalanta told The STAR through Messenger that they immediately coordinated with authorities when the fishermen arrived in their village last Tuesday morning.
The incident was reported to the PCG substation in the area.
The government will exhaust all legal remedies to bring justice to the families of the three Filipino fishermen who died in the sea collision, President Marcos said yesterday.
Marcos also vowed support and assistance to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of the three fishermen, including the captain of the fishing vessel,” he said in a post on X. “We assure the victims, their families and everyone that we will exert every effort to hold accountable those who are responsible for this unfortunate maritime incident.”
The PCG is investigating the incident to ascertain the details and circumstances surrounding the collision, according to the President.
“Let us allow the PCG to do its job and investigate, and let us refrain from engaging in speculations in the meantime. Rest assured that the government will provide support and assistance to the victims and their families,” he said.
The Philippines earlier removed floating barriers installed by the China Coast Guard in the area where the incident occurred, a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos.
Marcos had pointed out that the removal of the floating barrier was not meant to create trouble in the West Philippine Sea, but to protect the welfare of Filipino fishermen and the country’s maritime territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) yesterday extended condolences to the families of the three fishermen.
“We wish to extend our deepest condolences to the families of our fisherfolk who perished in this tragic event at sea,” the DFA said in a statement. “Out of respect for the bereaved families, we consider it prudent to wait for the results of the investigation before making any further statements in this regard.”
Meanwhile, senators yesterday expressed outrage over the death of three fishermen in the Bajo de Masinloc boat ramming.
“We are extremely outraged and aggrieved by the fatal ramming by an unidentified vessel on a Filipino fishing vessel in the West Philippine Sea, resulting in the loss of three innocent lives,” Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said.
“While the details remain unclear at this point, what is clear is that there has been a disregard for the lives of our fisherfolk, who are simply making a livelihood in our own seas. We will not rest until we get to the bottom of this incident,” Zubiri said, as he extended his sympathies to the families and vowed to help them seek justice for their loved ones.
The Senate president said he would await the report of the PCG on the matter.
“The still seaworthy other vessel should have extended assistance to those in distress,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said. “Our condolences to the grieving families of those who died. I’m sure the government has a program to help them. Also, our government can help the families seek and get justice for what happened.”
For Sen. Francis Tolentino, those responsible for the incident must be held accountable under existing law.
“The need to protect our fisherfolk and our marine resources cannot be overemphasized through the passage of our own Maritime Zone Law and the procurement of the necessary equipment for our coast guard as well. We await the results of the investigation being done,” Tolentino said.
The senator first broke the news about the Bajo de Masinloc incident during the public hearing of the Senate finance subcommittee on the proposed budget of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources for 2024.
Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense, emphasized that the authorities must conduct a comprehensive and unbiased investigation to ascertain the true circumstances surrounding the tragic event.
“The safety and well-being of our fishermen must always be a top priority, and those accountable for this incident must be held responsible for their actions. It is necessary to clarify this incident, whether it was an accident or not so that the authorities can take appropriate measures,” Estrada said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros “condemned in the strongest possible terms the ramming of ship Pacific Anna, registered in the Marshall Islands, into a Filipino fishing boat, killing three of our citizens.”
“It is deplorable that the vessel left the Filipino fishing boat and our citizens in the water. This despicable act is an affront to all Filipinos,” Hontiveros said. “Whoever did this must be held accountable: whoever they are, wherever they are.”
Bajo de Masinloc has been a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk and is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Fishers’ group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) yesterday called on authorities to investigate the death of three Filipino fishermen after the ramming incident in Panatag Shoal.
“We demand swift investigation on the circumstances of a foreign vessel’s ramming of a Filipino fishing vessel that resulted in the death of three fisherfolk in Panatag Shoal last Monday,” Pamalakaya national chairman Fernando Hicap said.
He added that it is unfortunate that Filipino fishers have to be vulnerable and unprotected in the country’s own traditional waters. – Artemio Dumlao, Ric Sapnu, Helen Flores, Pia Lee-Brago, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Bella Cariaso