Pablo rears long standing ills of tuna industryBy Edwin Espejo Jan 12, 2013 5:51AM UTC
(First of 2 parts)
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (12 January) – Twenty-one year old Gemma and friend Leah were sitting on a bench outside the disaster office in Camp Lira for probably 20 minutes when they noticed me asking some questions from the lone City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) worker manning a deserted assistance center for the fishermen that were lost the height of super typhoon Pablo.
I asked them if they have relatives still listed as missing. After more coaching, they reluctantly approached the table where I was seated.
Gemma said she was there to follow up the promised assistance she heard from other relatives and kin of missing tuna fishermen.
For Gemma, she is still hoping live-in partner Jodel Castro is just marooned on an island waiting to be rescued.
But with each day, her hope is thinning.
Jodel was among 71 fishermen from RLG Fishing who were lost in the high seas when Pablo unleashed its full wrath across the Pacific Ocean before hitting landfall in Davao Oriental on December 3.
But as of January 10, exactly a month after Task Force Maritime Search and Rescue GenSar officially admitted there were hundreds of missing fishermen from General Santos and nearby Sarangani, only 18 have been rescued alive from the missing list that topped 378 fishermen. Only eight dead bodies were retrieved leaving 352 more fishermen unaccounted for.
They were the crew of 15 catcher boats, 3 carrier boats and 32 light boats from at least 10 fishing companies that were caught in the eye of a perfect storm.
Of the lost vessels, only 4 are confirmed to have sunk.
The SFFAI has estimated the actual loss for the lost fishing vessels at P640 million. This is not counting the revenue losses as a result of the disaster.
But the human cost of the disaster is undoubtedly unquantifiable.
Cdr Jeff Rene Nadugo, acting operating officer of Task Force Maritime said there are no longer receiving reports of debris sightings or of any floating bodies.
In December, the US Navy sent a P-3C Orion aircraft to search for any signs of survivors but it has not reported any sightings. It has apparently terminated its search after failing to find possible survivors.
The Task Force has also been hampered by lack of material to launch a massive rescue mission and recurring bad weather. They have already called off search and rescue operations at least four times.
Chances of survival
The world record of surviving in the open seas alone was that of Poon Lim who reportedly ate raw fish and drank blood from a seagull aboard a tiny eight sq ft life raft for 133 days after their merchant vessel was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat on November 23, 1942.
In October 2005, three Mexicans drifted in the open seas for nine months after their boat ran out of fuel. They were finally found in Marshall Island on August 22, the following year. Mexican authorities doubted their story but the New York Times nevertheless printed their account.
American author Steven Callahan who is also a naval architect and a sailor survived for 76 days adrift on the Atlantic Ocean in a life raft.
Man’s ability to survive in the open seas depends on a lot of factors. Food and water top the list of must haves when marooned on the open seas.
A man can survive for weeks without food in the open seas but could die in two to three days without water while exposed to the punishing heat of the open ocean.
Filipino fishermen are a resilient lot and are experienced seafarers. But they have never met a storm as perfect as Pablo.
Still the story of Poon Lim and the three Mexicans are giving relatives hope some of these Filipino fishermen will just show up at their doors – alive.
Open sea fishing can be both rewarding and punishing. But in the aftermath of the tragedy, however, long standing issues in the tuna industry have again surfaced. How safe, secured and well paid are the Filipino tuna fishermen?
The Philippine tuna industry has a pay scale unlike any other.
Fishing crew members are, more likely than not, relatives and close friends. In an industry that counts on almost absolute loyalty to survive, it pays to have a crew composed of relatives and close friends.
“When the crew is out there in the open, fishing companies relies on the piyado (master fisherman who is also the ship skipper of the catcher vessel),” said Dexter Teng of TSP Marine Industries.
The piyado is then tasked to recruit his own machinist and able bodied deckhands that are absolutely under his command. In turn, the piyado gets the biggest slice of the pie during balanse (balance statements after cash advances are deducted) that usually comes quarterly.
The pie gets smaller in the pecking order.
A piyado can gross from a low of P700,000 to a high of P2.4 million annually on a good production year. For the chief engineer, he gets half of the piyado’s rate. A seasoned deckhand can gross up to P300,000.
Much of them however are already eaten up in cash advances.
The pay rates and incentives do not apply to all fishing companies where the industry norm of sharing system is more complicated and where accounting of production costs are oftentimes jacked up by company owners.
Some of the big tuna fishers have shifted to monthly pay for their piyado, boat engineers and deckhands, enlisting them in the SSS, and providing them Philhealth and Pag-Ibig coverage. Majority of these big tuna companies are now operating in countries where they have established bases like Palau, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Most of those who sailed and got caught by Pablo, however, are owned by medium-sized purse seine operators.
Their crew is not covered by benefits required from an employer-employer relationship as they insist that their fishermen are “industrial partners” and work on percentage basis. Their crew, too, are not entitled to overtime pay and night premiums.
When relatives of the missing fishermen trooped to the Task Force office, they demanded not only immediate action from both the government authorities and fishing companies in finding them. They also sought benefits that should be accrued them when it became clear many of fishermen may have been lost forever.
(To be continued)