At least 63 fishermen either survived or were rescued from a smashing big wave at dawn on Wednesday in Butuan Bay in Agusan del Norte, many of them who were alerted tying themselves at their boats as lifelines.
Rescue workers said, however, that the number could still rise as survivors told them of other fishermen floating at the distance. They also said they could not identify who the other fishermen were and where they came from.
Ryan Osores, 33, said all six fishermen from his group of six small fishing boats reached ashore Barangay 10 of Buenavista town, at 8 a.m., four hours after a rogue big wave smashed through the fishing boats that scattered off Butuan Bay.
He said they spread their nets shortly after the moon disappeared from the horizon at 4 a.m. Moments later, all were surprised by a big wave that rammed through their boats. Though pitched dark, he was able to spot another fisherman, Julius Montebon, from Purok 3, also of Barangay 10, already standing atop a capsized boat and waving for help.
“I told him not to mind his net anymore and save himself,” he said.
All of them steered through the waves to reach shore.
Marife N. Rosales, training officer at the Butuan City Search and Rescue Team (Busart), said many sustained only minor bruises and three complained of elevated blood pressure, with one of them, Norman Tirona, 35, rushed to the Buenavista clinic nearby.
The Busart rescuers said 29 fishermen came from Barangay 10, seven from Barangay Tinago and 26 from Manapa.
Other fishermen from these villages rushed to the mid sea to rescue them, many of whom did not leave the scene until they have secured their fishing nets. Osores and five others were the first ashore at 8 a.m. but the others were able to come back at 10 a.m. The seven others who were earlier declared missing were located alive by midafternoon of the same day.
A Swedish national, who resided at the coast of Barangay 10, said he pitied the fishermen in the place for going to sea without life vests.
“It’s disheartening to see them leave for the deep sea with vests, when it could definitely save them,” he said, but requesting not to be named.
He said he was a fisherman also but used big fishing boats that would sometimes take them to the waters off Norway.
“I’ve seen friends and known fishermen who were lost to sea. With a vest, they could survive at least another hour in the frigid waters, but here, locals could survive for days with a life vest,” he said.
“It’s crazy, but there must [be] a law that should require fishermen to put on a life vest,” he said.