By Tara Yap
The capsizing last Saturday of three pump boats in the Iloilo Strait has claimed the lives of 31 people.
The number of dead from the tragedy was finalized by the inter-agency incident command center after reporting that the body of the last missing person was recovered Tuesday afternoon.
The center also reported that there were 65 survivors, consisting of 52 passengers and 13 crew from the boats M/B Chi-Chi, M/B Keziah 2 and M/B Jenny Vince.
Donna Magno, Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office chief and official incident spokesperson, said that while three boats were involved, there were only two incidents.
The first incident occurred past noon of August 3 when the Chi-Chi and the Keziah 2 ran into a squall, or sudden emergence of strong winds, waves and rain in the strait.
The Chi-Chi was sailing to Jordan town in Guimaras from Iloilo City. The Keziah, which had no passengers, was coming from the other direction.
At 3:30 p.m., the Jenny Vince flipped over when it encountered the same squall on its way to Iloilo City from Buenavista town in Guimaras.
As the search for bodies came to a close, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is under fire for allowing sea travel to resume that resulted into the third boat to capsize and raising the number of dead.
Local officials and residents were stunned to learn that the Coast Guard gave a go signal for passenger boats to sail while search and rescue operations were still in progress.
“But the weather cleared up. That’s why the trips resumed,” said Commodore Victor Dela Vega, Coast Guard district commander of Western Visayas.
There is a policy that allows short sea trips, but Dela Vega said it needs to be reviewed.
The Coast Guard is also being criticized for its handling of search and rescue activities for the Jenny Vince.
Survivors Rocill Garcia Responso and Reyjand Guinsatao accused the Coast Guard of leaving behind the passengers who were trapped in the overturned boat.
Responso told Manila Bulletin that majority of the Coast Guard personnel stood around on the rubber boats and did not want to jump into the water for a closer inspection of the stricken vessel.
Guinsatao, who is one of the first to get out alive from the boat, recalled how he, fellow survivors, and crew members pulled out several victims from the boat.
He said only three or four Coast Guardsmen helped them, and the rest busied themselves taking pictures or videos or transporting the survivors back to Iloilo City.