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Better boat safety sought as lake mishap victims rise to 26

DAY AFTER A TRAGEDY. Residents of Brgy. Calinawan in Binangonan, Rizal look at the ill-fated MB Aya Express on Friday a day after it capsized after a strong wind while crossing Laguna Lake en route to Barangay Gulod, Talim Island. Danny Pata

Government officials and lawmakers called for more stringent safety measures for maritime vessels after the number of people killed when an overloaded passenger boat capsized in Laguna Lake on Thursday rose to 26, with divers still looking for three missing.

“These are lives we are talking about, we want to be thorough, coming from this, what are the preemptive measures we can take so this won’t be repeated,” Rizal Gov. Nini Ynares said in a TV report.

Mayor Cesar Ynares of Binangonan, Rizal, where the tragedy happened, noted there could be more passengers trapped underneath the vessel aside from the 67 already rescued or retrieved.

He said the captain of the vessel could be held liable for exceeding the 42-seat capacity of the motorized outrigger.

He added that the Philippine Coast Guard could also face investigation for failing to monitor the number of passengers boarding the vessel.

The PCG relieved two of its personnel in Binangonan on Friday after the accident.

PCG Commandant Artemio Abu confirmed the PCG’s decision during a press briefing in the Coast Guard Headquarters in Manila, saying they were relieved so they could not interfere with the investigation.

“My instructions are clear to the regional commander of the Coast Guard to conduct a fair, honest, and transparent investigation,” he said.

He said that cases will be filed against the boat captain and operator.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III underscored the need for the Senate to investigate the Laguna Lake tragedy. His call was supported by Senator Christopher Go.

The boat’s captain hides his face from photographers while being detained at the local police station, while a funeral parlor worker shows framed photographs of two senior citizens who were among the victims.

Pimentel said it was too early for the PCG to lift the “no sail” order because Typhoon “Egay” had left the country only four hours before.

The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has suspended the permit of the sunken MB Aya Express. The suspension will be followed by a thorough inspection of the vessel, the agency said.

The wooden outrigger was carrying about 70 people on its regular run from a port in Binangonan municipality to the island of Talim in Laguna Lake, near Manila, on Thursday when the accident happened.

Strong winds sparked panic among passengers who moved to one side of the vessel and caused it to capsize, the coast guard said. The boat’s maximum capacity was 42.

One of the survivors, Marr delos Reyes, said there were no PCG personnel manning their post before the boat left port Thursday. He added that they were not wearing life vests.

If there were Coast Guard personnel in their posts, they wouldn’t have been able to leave because the passengers had no life vests on, delos Reyes told TeleRadyo Serbisyo.

The boat capsized less than 10 minutes after setting sail, Delos Reyes said.

“There was zero visibility. Strong wind, strong rain. It’s like we encountered a tornado,” he added.

Delos Reyes said the crew had set up an improvised tarpaulin to keep the rain out, but when the boat capsized, people were trapped inside with nowhere to go.

“It’s like a fish caught in a net, that can’t get out,” he said. “I don’t know how to swim. Luckily, I survived.”

He said some passengers brought bikes, rice, bales of cloth, and groceries on the boat. The cloth helped other passengers. “It became an improvised life vest, they floated.”

People standing on the shore watched in horror as rescuers in boats searched for victims in the murky water.

Video footage of the frantic rescue operation shared by the Coast Guard shows a man standing on the hull of the boat lying on its side, shouting “There are so many people here,” as small outrigger boats circled trying to help.

Forty-three people survived.

A funeral parlor worke shows framed photographs of two senior citizens who are among the victims of the MV Princess Aya that capsized in the water off Binangonan in Rizal. Danny Pata

The Coast Guard and police are investigating the cause of the accident, which happened hours after Egay (international name: Doksuri) had swept out of the northern Philippines.

Coast Guard spokesman Rear Admiral Armando Balilo said Thursday the vessel had permission to sail.

Boats had been ordered to shore in Luzon and central islands earlier in the week due to gale warnings as the typhoon intensified the southwest monsoon.

By nightfall on Thursday, rescuers had righted the boat and dragged it close to shore, where its yellow hull sat in shallow water.

People began loading coffins of victims onto boats during the evening to transport them to funeral ceremonies.

Strong winds lashed the MB Aya Express, and it capsized less than 50 meters away from Barangay Kalinawan at around 1 p.m. Thursday.

The captain of the vessel said only 22 people listed their names on the passenger manifest.

They also received information that passengers were not wearing life vests during their voyage.

Abu said only 22 passengers and crews were listed in the boat’s manifest, which was submitted and approved by the PCG Substation in Binangonan.

Due to the overloading of passengers and strong winds carried by the super typhoon, the people on board the motorboat panicked, which caused it to capsize.

In a separate interview, Balilo said the PCG will probe the boat’s sinking.

“We have called for an investigation already, including on our personnel,” Balilo said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

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