All banca boat operations plying the Iloilo-Guimaras route were suspended after 31 passengers lost their lives on Saturday, August 3, 2019. Consequently, daily travelers that traverse the Iloilo Strait waited in line for up to 10 hours to board fast crafts and ROROs. On August 13, the suspension was repealed to help ease commuter wait times. However, passenger delays persist on Guimaras-Iloilo route.
Sea Tragedy Claims 31 Lives
Three banca boats capsized that tragic Saturday afternoon, falling victim to sudden storm squalls. Because of the suspension’s removal, one of our nieces from Guimaras traveled via banca boat to Iloilo City this past Wednesday.
Aside from the Coast Guard presence and hot weather conditions, our niece informed us everything was back to normal.
Tarpaulins serving as a roof to protect boat passengers from sunlight or rain had to be removed or rolled up.
Some survivors claimed the pump boats’ tarpaulin cover was a factor in the capsizing of the boats. The sudden winds gusts lifted up one of the boats before smashing it into the water.
Therefore, passengers now have to use umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun or any rain.
Coast Guard on Duty…for Now
There was a heavy Coast Guard duty present at the Jordan Wharf in Guimaras…for now. Questions remain as to why the Coast Guard allowed banca boat operations to resume Saturday afternoon, August 3, after the capsizing of the M/B ChiChi and M/B Keziah three hours before. Twenty people had already lost their lives.
However, the Coast Guard at Parola Wharf in Iloilo City allowed the M/B Jenny Vince to operate. The ill-fated vessel also capsized costing 11 innocent people their lives.
Coast Guard Officials Relieved
Several Coast Guard officials were relieved of their command pending investigation. Rightfully so, as banca boat operators from Buena Vista, where the Jenny Vince was headed, rescued many passengers trapped under the capsized vessel. The Coast Guard was ill equipped to handle the situation.
The Tawash Tragedy
After the Tawash, for two weeks, the wearing of life jackets was made mandatory. The Coast Guard were on board the banca boats making inspections and making sure passenger manifest logs were in order.
However, a group of lawyers in Guimaras complained the life jackets were crumpling their suits and an injunction was issued.
Therefore, the wearing of life jackets was stopped. The Coast Guard presence greatly diminished or disappeared.
In over hundreds of trips my asawa and I have made on the Iloilo Strait since the Tawash tragedy, not one banca boat crewmember advised any passengers to wear their life jackets.
We Ride the Pump Boat Again
After our niece’s report, we decided to make the trip to Iloilo City via the pump boats. I needed to visit our bank in Iloilo City to obtain a bank draft in US dollars in order to renew my US passport.
Thankfully, I could fill out an online form, send the bank draft to the US Embassy, and therefore avoid a trip in person to Manila.
The weather was fine. Sunny and not windy. We pulled up to our parking lot outside of the Jordan Wharf. I asked the lot attendant if the fast crafts were operating. He said they weren’t because the banca boats were back in service.
Hence, since we didn’t want to transport our Ford Ranger XLT on the RORO, Roll-on, Roll-off ferry, we decided to take a chance on the banca boat.
Coast Guard Can’t Give Me an Answer
While waiting for my wife to secure our tickets, I approached a group of Coast Guard personnel standing at the wharf. I asked if there was still a 20-kilo limit for goods transported on the boats.
The official I asked didn’t know and questioned someone next to him. In the meantime, we obtained our pump boat tickets, while the Coast Guard officials continued to try to determine an answer to my question.
If there were a 20-kilo limit, as previously stated in Coast Guard memorandums, we would have to hire a separate boat from Iloilo for a “special trip.” Aside from the bank draft I needed, we also had to purchase two bags of dog food for our eight canines. Each bag alone weighed 20 kilos.
We boarded our pump boat as a Coast Guard official looked on. Everyone donned their life jackets that were surprisingly clean. Before the sea tragedy, the majority of life jackets were filthy and smelly.
After securing my bank draft at BDO (which took almost 90 minutes, but more on that in a future post), we purchased our Good Boy Original dog food from Ace Hardware in SM City. We usually buy two 20-kilo bags. However, we purchased three bags to cut down our trips to Iloilo City.
Bow Wow is Bad
Guimaras doesn’t carry this particular brand of dog food. We’ve tried the Bow Wow brand but our dogs don’t like it and have showed signs of increased scratching when we fed it to them. Therefore, we tried a brand from a new feed poultry store in Guimaras but their product was old and even contained mold.
Passenger Delays Persist on Guimaras-Iloilo Route
We eventually made our way back to Parola Wharf in Iloilo City. However, when our taxi pulled up we encountered an extremely long line at the passenger terminal.
Though the weather was fine when we left Guimaras, pump boats trips were suspended from 11 am to 2 pm. Now only seven banca boats plied the Iloilo-Guimaras Jordan route. The other operating boats had gone home.
The reason for the delay? Cloudy skies and windy conditions.
104 Boats Used to Ply the Route
Previously, 104 pump boats were in operation before the Saturday tragedy. We couldn’t hire a boat for a “special trip” but had a load of groceries and dog food. I made my way past the long line and politely excused myself and went to the Senior Citizen window to obtain our tickets.
We managed to find one of our regular porters and waited for our pump boat to arrive. It took about an hour for the M/B Bert & Marge to make its way to Parola. Thankfully, our merchandise was loaded without any question and we made our way to Jordan Wharf.
Wind was Picking Up
The wind was picking up and the waves quite choppy. However, we made it to Jordan. We couldn’t spot our regular porters, Joseph or Neil, but a young deaf man was at the wharf. We hadn’t seen the man for over a year. I waved the young porter over to help us. I don’t know any sign language.
In the meantime, Joseph showed up. The hearing-impaired porter stepped away.
While my wife watched as Joseph loaded our merchandise, I walked over to the loading area to meet our parking lot attendant. We text our lot attendant ahead of time to pick us up when we approach the wharf.
Joseph and the young deaf man were having a discussion. The deaf man can only make high-pitched indiscernible squeaky sounds.
A 20-something Filipino man standing nearby mocked the deaf mute, mimicking the sounds he was making.
I stopped. Walked over to the moron who was standing next to a comrade.
“Are you making fun of him?” I asked. “What if you were born deaf? Would you like people to make fun of you?”
The moron muttered something, his eyes looking down the whole time. I moved on.
Our driver pulled up and our groceries were loaded. The deaf man looked on. Though he wasn’t able to load our goods, I asked my wife to give him 50 pesos, one dollar, for his trouble.
Thankfully, we made it home safely.
However, in the future, we may bring our truck over in the RORO whenever we have any major shopping trips planned.
It’s good to know that weather conditions are being monitored and pump boats are suspended from operating. Nevertheless, be aware of possible delays when going from Guimaras to Iloilo or vice versa.