No trace of 14 fishing boat crew 5 days since collision with HK ship

JC Gotinga

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No trace of 14 fishing boat crew 5 days since collision with HK ship
(UPDATED) Chances of finding survivors get slimmer by the minute, says the Philippine Coast Guard

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The 14 people aboard the fishing vessel Liberty 5 may have gotten trapped under it when it capsized, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said as it launched its 4th full day of search and rescue operations for the missing Filipinos on Thursday, July 2.

Days of aerial, surface, and underwater search operations have yet to yield any trace of the missing persons, said PCG spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo.

The PCG’s BRP Boracay and BRP Malapascua, as well as the MCS 3009 vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), continued scouring the waters off Occidental Mindoro on Thursday, even as chances of finding survivors grew slimmer every minute.

The Liberty 5 may have already sunk 2,000 meters – or 2 kilometers – to the bottom of the sea. Technical divers can only go as deep as 100 meters, Balilo said.

Thursday’s search covered the waters off Lubang Island northwest of the Mindoro mainland all the way to San Jose municipality in the south.

The Philippine Air Force conducted an aerial survey of the waters off Mamburao, while the Philippine National Police Maritime Group patrolled the coastline of Santa Cruz, both towns of Occidental Mindoro. The Bureau of Fire Protection and local governments in the area also deployed boats to help with the search.

PCG commandant Vice Admiral George Ursabia Jr earlier said the search team would assess whether there would still be reason to continue the operation beyond Thursday if no survivors are found then.

Investigators have finished getting statements from the crew of the Vienna Wood, Balilo said. The vessel is now detained at the Port of Batangas. Investigators would then begin taking the accounts of the crews of 7 other fishing boats that had been in the vicinity of the collision, and had tried to come to the distressed Liberty 5’s rescue.

Meanwhile, the PCG, the PCG Auxiliary, and the BFAR have given assistance to the missing persons’ families. The BFAR gave them each a sack of rice as “immediate assistance” and pledged other help, including 30-footer motorized fiberglass boats.

At the Malabon office of boat owner Irma Fishing and Trading, relatives and colleagues of the 11 fishermen and 3 employees who had been on the Liberty 5 offered prayers and lit candles for them.

VIGIL. Families and fellow workers hold a prayer vigil at Irma Fishing and Trading in Malabon on July 1, 2020, for 14 fishermen and crew who went missing after their fishing boat Liberty 5 collided with the Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship Vienna Wood in Occidental Mindoro. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

Initial search efforts were launched by the PCG outposts in Batangas on Sunday morning, June 28, after the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Vienna Wood sent a distress call that the PCG command center received at 1:46 am. It was more than 3 hours after the cargo ship hit the Liberty 5 at 10:20 pm of Saturday, June 27.

The delay in the receipt of the distress call led media to initially report the incident as having happened at around 1 am on Sunday.

The PCG in Batangas sent out a motor boat at around 5:30 am on Sunday to begin the search. It took the boat hours to reach ground zero.

By Sunday afternoon, PCG divers reached the area and began searching underwater, to no avail. Searches have to be called off at nightfall to avoid risks to the searchers themselves.

Ursabia told reporters on Tuesday, June 30, the collision was likely an accident brought about by rough seas and poor visibility at the time.

Citing the Vienna Wood crew master, Ursabia said the bulk carrier did not deploy a team to help search for the distressed mariners after the collision, but it steered a safe distance away to prevent smashing into the 7 smaller vessels that tried to assist the Liberty 5. It did not try to leave the area.

However, in a statement, the Vienna Wood’s manager AM Nomikos said they “initiated a search operation immediately after the incident and found no survivors.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday, June 29, said the incident was a mere “banggaan” or accident. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said the incident must not be politicized.

The Chinese embassy in Manila, in a statement, said it was “shocked” by the incident, and opposed its “politicization.”

On Thursday, however, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, in a virtual forum of the National Defense College of the Philippines, mentioned the incident among instances of “harassment” of Filipinos by Chinese vessels in Philippine waters.

Because the collision happened in Philippine internal waters, the matter falls under complete Philippine jurisdiction. The PCG said the investigation may be concluded by Tuesday, July 7. –

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.