The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) on Monday, August 9, ordered a fishing company to stop its operations following the gas poisoning of one of its fish carriers’ captain and three crew inside the storage compartment while in the waters off Talisayan village, Zamboanga City, on August 5.
Roy Buenafe, DOLE director for the Zamboanga Peninsula, confirmed that the Zamboanga-based Nancy Fishing Corporation was ordered to cease operating its vessels after it failed to submit a safety investigation report on time as required under Republic Act No. 11058.
Buenafe said the company was supposed to submit the report 24 hours after the deaths of the fish carrier’s captain and three of the crew of FV 558 Julius on Thursday, August 5.
Authorities identified those who died as fish carrier captain Joseph Oro, 45; 3rd mate Marjon Oro, 37; Charlie Caspe, 29; and Billy Lamag, 27.
Doctors said the two Oros, residents of Sangali, Zamboanga City, died of asphyxia secondary to drowning; while Caspe Lamag of Negros Occidental, succumbed to acute respiratory distress syndrome secondary to toxic inhalation of a still unknown gas.
Three of the victims were pronounced dead on arrival at the Zamboanga Doctors’ Hospital and Brent Hospital on Thursday morning while another one died at noontime.
Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Division Commander Jesse Guiniling said the medical explanation for the deaths was “interpreted with clarity as gas poisoning.”
Guiniling said PCG investigators were still not done with their separate investigation into the incident.
But he said initial findings showed that the fish carrier’s captain instructed his 3rd mate and Lamag to siphon off the icy water and decaying fish from the vessel’s storage compartment at around 6 am.
FV 558 Julius’s chief engineer, Sonny Morales, said the younger Oro and Lamag called for help minutes later because they became dizzy and had difficulties breathing.
Morales told investigators that his captain and Caspe rushed to the storage compartment to help but they too fell sick shortly after.
Investigators said all four already passed out when Morales checked on them, and when other crew members moved to get them out of the storage compartment, the chief mate, Juanito Ibañez Jr., maneuvered the vessel en route to the nearest wharf in Talisayan.
The labor department ordered the fishing vessel and the storage compartment where the poisoning happened not to be touched “until technical experts with complete safety apparatus and equipment could identify the gaseous and poisonous substance.”
Buenafe said it came as a shock to officials, and the deaths raised serious concerns on public health.
“Hindi namin akalain na itong mga fishing companies ay nag iimbak ng sira o dead fish na nahalo sa stored catch,” Buenafe told Rappler.
(We never thought that fishing companies mixed their fresh catch with dead and decaying fish.)
Dr. Elmeir Jade Apolinario, Zamboanga City’s disaster risk reduction management office chief, said an interagency committee was created to look into what he described as “a very serious matter” beginning this week.
“We created the technical team and agreed to put in place measures to prevent a repeat of this tragedy,” Buenafe said.
The group included Buenafe as chairman, Dr. Apolinario from city hall, and officials from the Coast Guard, Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO), Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Bureau of Fish and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and Southern Philippines Deep Sea Fishing Association (Sophil) president Jaydrick Jayson Yap, among others.
Buenafe said he told Nancy Fishing Corporation represented by its manager Julius Daniel to present the firm’s standard operating procedures, safety protocols vis a vis common hazards faced by its workers, and information about the victims and its crews. – Rappler.com
Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.