By: Reyshimar Arguelles

ANYONE can easily shrug off any form of tragedy as just a part of life. But only the most soulless, vile, and twisted beings online can leave a “Haha” reaction on a news report about what is considered to be one of the worst sea disasters Western Visayas has ever witnessed. Whether they’re coming across as clever or “edgy” doesn’t make these numbskulls any less human. Disrespect is pretty much rampant online where they could easily become an “edgelord” overnight, posting memes in a bid to compensate for their lack of a decent upbringing.

But we’re not going to focus much on these nihilistic yahoos. Humanitarian effort has been exerted by individuals and organizations to save and care for the survivors of the three pump-boats that capsized on Saturday when strong winds and rain pummelled the Iloilo Strait. On that fateful day, M/B Chichi, M/B Keziah-2, and M/B Jenny Vince capsized after squalls tipped these vessels over and left their crew and passengers in the middle of the water.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the local governments of Iloilo City were quick to rescue those who managed to climb on top of the overturned vessels. A few hours after the incident, Jenny Vince met the same fate. Its remnants were discovered off the coast of Dumangas, along with several survivors and 11 casualties.

At least 53 people were rescued from the unforgiving waters but the casualties so far has reached over 25 as I write this piece. As a result, ferry operations have been halted, save for Roll-on/Roll-off vessels that are large enough to withstand the perilous waters to safely ferry thousands of stranded passengers in Guimaras and Iloilo City. Meanwhile, schools and universities in the mainland have excused their students in Guimaras who are unable to make the journey across.

To some, the cancelled boat trips came too late. Had the PCG suspended ferry operations immediately after the Chichi and Keziah-2 sank, casualties would have been avoided. Regardless, the incidents that happened on what has been dubbed by this newspaper as “Black Saturday” show the risks that many Guimarasnons face. We can go on to say that tragedies like this are a part of life, but you can’t really deny the feeling that things would have been avoided from the outset.

The country has witnessed the worst maritime disasters from the sinking of M/V Don Juan to the overturning of M/V Princess of the Stars during the onset of Typhoon Frank. You can’t help but wonder if we were able to learn from these experiences and improve maritime safety. But of course, there’s no point in lambasting certain agencies, although you can’t help but question the common sense that these agencies possess, knowing fully well that people’s lives are at risk. In hindsight, it was a bad call on the part of the PCG to allow sea travel even after the Chichi and Keziah-2 incidents.

Likewise, it doesn’t help to blame the government for it’s supposed indifference towards maritime safety considering the fact that the country is an archipelago and that the most affordable means of inter-island travel for many citizens is by boat and ship. Past administrations have made commitments towards ensuring safer sea travel.

Just last year, in fact, the Maritime Industry Authority has also addressed the findings of a maritime safety audit conducted by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). For its part, the PCG has also been active in certifying motorbancas that are safe to operate and ensuring that these were equipped with life vests, ladders, and fire extinguishers. One can only wonder if these policies were indeed followed through.

There’s an ever present need to strengthen the processes we already have in place and change this mindset that we have gotten used to the perils of sea travel. To even consider the risks that many passengers and crew face as commonplace only serves a twisted, self-serving worldview. If only common sense were commonplace.

For now, Guimaras and Iloilo grieves for those who were lost.