Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Survivor of Philippines ferry disaster calls for probe after doomed crossing declared safe

Mark Angelo Subaldo, one of the UAE teachers on a capsized boat, blames the Philippines coastguard that said the crossing was safe to sail through

Mark Angelo Subaldo, right, fought to save the life of his friend, Andrew Valenzuela, left, who died in the ferry tragedy. Courtesy Mark Subaldo
Mark Angelo Subaldo, right, fought to save the life of his friend, Andrew Valenzuela, left, who died in the ferry tragedy. Courtesy Mark Subaldo

A survivor of the Philippines ferry tragedy has said the coastguard declared the crossing safe just minutes before his vessel capsized, killing three of his friends.

Mark Angelo Subaldo, one the group of eight Filipino teachers from the UAE who had met up for a summer holiday, told The National he fought unsuccessfully to save the life of one of his co-workers, Andrew Valenzuela, 39, after hauling him from the water on to the overturned boat.

Another fellow teacher he helped, Jeanette Montemayor, survived, although she remained in intensive care on Sunday.

Mr Subaldo said the Philippine coastguard “should be held responsible” for the accident which he believes could have been prevented.

Two other ferries had capsized earlier on Saturday, causing the short journeys between Buenavista and Iloilo to be suspended. However, around three hours later, the coastguard gave the all clear for the route to reopen.

Within 10 minutes three ferries had departed, Mr Subaldo said. The first two completed the short crossing but his, the third to depart, capsized after it was hit with high winds.

“When we were in the middle of the ocean it was still OK, then all of a sudden there was just a really big, strong wind,” the 36-year-old, who has been teaching in the UAE for nine years, said.

“We found ourselves inside the capsized boat. People were panicking, there was no space to accommodate all of us, it was getting hard to breathe. I decided to remove my life vest, so I could swim underneath and leave the boat.”

Some people remained trapped in the capsized boat and would not remove their life jackets as they could not swim, he said. One of his colleagues had survived, even though he could not swim, because he abandoned his life jacket and somehow managed to escape the enclosed space.

“After escaping the boat I saw Andrew — he was still underwater,” he said. “Another guy helped me grab him and put him on the boat. At first, when the other guy was giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation he was breathing deep enough.

“If [the coastguard] had responded immediately, probably Andrew would have been able to survive.

“It is very traumatic for all of us. We are in the funeral home now, trying to arrange getting the bodies back to the correct places.”

Mr Subaldo believes it took between 10 and 15 minutes for a coastguard speedboat to arrive. Efforts to revive Valenzuela were unsuccessful, while the bodies of two of his other friends, Eden Perales and Jaquelyn Alferez, were discovered washed up on an island on Sunday morning.

Valenzuela and Alferez were single. Perales was married but did not have children.

Mr Subaldo said he believed the authorities in the Philippines should investigate why the ferry had been allowed to make the crossing, despite two others sinking only hours before.

"The Philippine coastguard should be held responsible,” he said. “Until now, no one is responding from their side. We want them to explain to the bereaved families what happened, but nothing has happened.

“During the day of the tragedy, the moment that the coastguard said that it is safe to cross from Buenavista, Guimaras to Iloilo, everyone started rushing for the ferries because they wanted to leave the island.”

Updated: August 5, 2019 02:29 PM

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