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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – At least 15 people were killed when unidentified armed men attacked a group of fishing boats off the high seas of a remote island in Basilan, reports reaching the military said.
According to the Western Mindanao Command (WMC), the massacre occurred around 7am on Monday, January 23, with armed men targeting three palakayas or outrigger fishing boats near Sibago Island in Mohammad Adjul town. Initially, 18 fishermen, mostly from San Pablo town in Zamboanga del Sur, were on board the vessels.
The WMC report described the attack as a “straffing incident” since the victims sustained gunshot wounds.
Responding authorities have reportedly recovered at least 15 cadavers from the site of the sea attack. San Pablo Mayor Belman Mantos told Rappler that four of the cadavers have arrived in their town on Tuesday morning.
Three fishermen reportedly survived the carnage, but only one has been accounted for.
Jerome Lunsol, 22, was admitted at the Zamboanga City Medical Center due to gunshot wounds in the head and other parts of his body. The two other survivors were rescued by other fishermen in the area have returned to San Pablo.
It remains unclear what group was behind the attack on the fishermen, but there have been previous incidents where fishermen fell prey to sea pirates operating on the seas of Basilan.
Town in mourning
Reports said the group of fishermen left their base in Zamboanga City last Friday, January 20, and proceeded to the seas off Sibago Island in Mohammad Adjul town, a known fish sanctuary in Basilan.
“Word spread on Monday (January 23) morning here in San Pablo, particularly in Barangay Tandubuay where most of the victims are from, that our fishermen were being fired upon,” Mantos told Rappler in Filipino, quoting UHF radio his office. He dispatched other fishermen in his town to verify the reports.
“It was past 6pm that same day that we confirmed that our fishermen were indeed attacked,” Mantos said. “You can’t help but be carried away by the emotions of the families of the victims.”
According to a military report, 7 cadavers were discovered on the first fishing boat, 5 on the second and 3 on the third.
The cadavers are expected to arrive in San Pablo town anytime on Tuesday. They are being transported on board one of the fishing boats of the fatalities and being escorted by other local fishermen who responded following the attack.
Authorities were unaware?
The Basilan police was apparently clueless when town officials of San Pablo coordinated with them about the incident, despite the high number of fatalities.
“We were surprised that they only learned of the attack around 9pm on Monday, which was several hours since the incident happened” Mantos lamented. “It will be unlikely for them to respond anymore and pursue the attackers.”
Rappler tried to contact Basilan police provincial director Alex Lineses but he could not be reached for comment.
Mantos admitted that fishermen have been warned against venturing into the seas of Basilan due to frequent incidents of piracy, harassments and violent attacks.
“Unfortunately, our sea waters have limited supply and we cannot stop our deep sea fishermen from risking their lives, so they could earn a living and sustain their families,” Santos said. – Rappler.com