THE NEED to clarify and strengthen protocols on the suspension of motorboat trips as well as emergency response coordination has been put on the spotlight following Saturday’s mishap at the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait wherein three boats capsized and claimed the lives of at least 28 people. Commodore Allan Victor T. Dela Vega, district commander of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Region 6, explained during a press conference Monday afternoon that the varying number of casualties reported by media was due in part to unclear protocol among emergency response authorities. “There was identification of the 11 bodies and a confusion on their identification. The protocol for single accounting procedure was not yet ironed out until yesterday (Sunday),” he said. As of 3 p.m. Aug. 6, the Joint Incident Command Post reported that casualties remained at 28, while three are still unaccounted for. The number of survivors is 64, including 52 passengers and 12 crew members for all three boats. The total number of passengers was 83, of whom 10 were not in the manifesto. Iloilo City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office head Donna P. Magno said two cadavers found in Dumangas town have yet to be identified.

An investigation on the incidents is being conducted by an inter-agency team, including the PCG and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA). Mr. Dela Vega acknowledged that there is a “gray area” on the suspension of voyages of motorboats. “There is a covering protocol procedure, which is both drafted and approved by the provincial government, the coastguard and the inter-agency body, so we are guided with this protocol… Because the weather condition then, during departure were clear, it’s not prohibited… and that protocol is a gray area,” he explained. The first incident that involved two boats took place at 12:15 p.m., while the third boat capsized about three hours later. MARINA, in a statement on Wednesday, said it has suspended operations of all passenger motorboats operating the Iloilo–Guimaras route and will be subject to review and assessment of safety conditions. Two roll-on, roll off vessels continue to serve the route.

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo R. Duterte is set to visit the victims of the sea tragedy on Wednesday afternoon, Malacañang said on Tuesday. “Tomorrow… Usually hapon iyon (that would be in the afternoon),” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a press briefing on Tuesday. — Emme Rose S. Santiagudo with Arjay L. Balinbin