Thursday, July 22, 2010

Typhoon Basyang’s Fury: A Fisherman’s Tale of Survival at Sea

Written by Major Harold M Cabunoc (Inf) PA

Since he took fishing as his job, Victor Bordeos, had been sailing the high seas of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur for the past 5 years.

One of the three survivors of the fishing boat which was capsized by typhoon “Basyang”, Bordeos lived to share his story about a fisherman’s life and his personal accounts about survival at sea.

A high school dropout from Patnanongan town in Quezon, Bordeos settled in the sleepy town of Jose Panganiban in Camarines Norte with his wife and three children.

“I go fishing with my friends every week since this is our only source of income,” said Bordeos.

“We are working for a boat owner who gets an equal share of the proceeds of our fish catch,” he added.

All in the family

Bordeos is a member of the 11-man fishing crew of a large fishing boat based in Calero village where all of them have resided. Some of his fellow fishermen who work with him are from the neighboring provinces of Quezon and Camarines Sur.

Most of the crew members are his friends and relatives, including his brother Juliano and brother-in-law Alber Palacio.

On a good day, Bordeos and his companions bring home at least P1,500 each to sustain their respective family members.

Fishermen take equal shares of their net earnings everytime their fish catch are delivered to middlemen in the village. Usually, they go fishing in the high seas for at least 3-4days to maximize their fish haul.

If they are ‘unlucky’ they only get at least P500.00 for their 3-day adventure in the high seas.

To make ends meet, Bordeos and his friends take only a day’s rest before sailing once again for another 4-day duration.

“If we don’t go fishing, we cannot buy food provisions for the next week. Life is indeed so hard, and, my 6-year old child is going to school very soon,” Bordeos explained.

Just another fishing day

The weather was so calm when Bordeos and his 10 companions set sail early morning on July 11, 2010, Sunday.

“We don’t have any idea that a strong typhoon was coming in Bicol. I haven’t heard about it in the news or from any of my friends,” he said. Bordeos and his friends enjoyed the first two days of their fishing as they gradually filled their containers with bountiful fish catch.

Unknown to them, a stormy weather was looming ahead of typhoon “Basyang” (international codenme: Conson), forcing some schools to suspend classes and the diversion of international flights in most of Luzon.

In some areas, ships were also barred from leaving port as authorities were trying to prevent disaster from taking its heavy toll.

With maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers per hour near the center and gusting at up to 150 kilometers per hour, Basyang was bearing down on Camarines Norte, trapping many of the hapless fishermen in the open sea.

“We were already heading back home in the late afternoon of July 13 (Tuesday) when we met the strong winds and heavy rains along the way. For the first time, I saw huge waves as tall as a tree story house,” he said.

“Our boat was easily tossed by the huge waves as if it was only a toy pushed by the raging waters to any direction. I heard the screams of my friends who were all cowed by the mighty sea. It was the time that I suddenly thought about my family, about my three young children,” Bordeos narrated, as tears started welling in his eyes.

“Strong rains and the gloomy skies blurred our vision. All we can do was to hold tight and pray hard”.

As sea water started to enter the boat, the ‘captain’ directed the crew members to start removing the water to prevent the boat from sinking. He was only able to use his bare hands as the few pails available were already taken by his friends.

While they were desperately removing the water from the boat, he heard a loud crack. The boat was torn to half, tossing all of them towards the water.

“I managed to hold on the side of our boat. Brandy and April were with me while my brother Juliano was with 7 companions in the other half of the boat,” he said.

Survival mode begins

It was already night time and Bordeos and his friends couldn’t see each other anymore.

The next morning, he saw all of his companions separated at least 50 meters apart. They were all desperately trying to make a field-expedient ‘balsa’ (raft) out of the floating debris that they can find.

He saw his brother Juliano who managed to smile despite their woes.

“See you all in Butauanan island,” he quoted his brother as saying while the latter was swimming beside their improvised raft.

Four of his fellow fishermen ride on top of the raft while four are swimming to guide the raft towards the island which was ‘1 hour away by motorboat’.

Meanwhile, he and his two companions held on to their own raft, swimming towards the direction of the island.

After long hours of paddling their feet, he and his friends became tired and hungry. He couldn’t see the group of his brother who drifted to another direction as huge waves battered their ‘balsa’.

Tired and famished, Bordeos said they were forced to eat what they can find. “We gathered ‘kulapu’ (sea weed) and ate them raw”.

He also said that they were thankful when there is heavy downpour. “We gathered rainwater using our clothes then sip the clothes to quench our thirst”.

Hanging on to live

Bordeos and his companions got too tired especially when they were swimming against the current on the second day. “We were too exhausted after our sleepless night and long hours of paddling with our feet,” he said.

Feeling helpless and seeing that the island was still too far, Bordeos and his friends decided to just stay afloat, clinging to their raft. “We were just waiting for someone to find us. We were also praying that our families be taken cared of in case we die,” he said.

“The sea was calm after two days. We can see some fishing boats in the horizon but they were heading to the opposite direction,” he said, referring to the group of fishermen who started fishing during that day.

“We yelled and waved our hand everytime a fishing boat was nearby. Unfortunately, they seemed to be ignoring our calls,” he said.

By that same time, combined rescue teams from the local government, PNP maritime group and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, had started combing the beaches and the high seas for clues about the reported 40 missing persons.

Then, like a stroke of luck, he saw that a fishing boat was heading directly at them at around 10:00am, Thursday. “The sight of that fishing boat with orange clad rescue teams were like a heaven-sent gift to us,” he said with a trace of a smile on his face.

His rescuers brought them to Butauanan Island in Siruma, Camarines Sur, as the rescue effort to find the 8 other missing relatives was immediately launched.

Home sweet home

Bordeos and his two friends were picked up by AFP rescue teams from Butauanan Island on board 2 helicopters on July 16 (Friday).

Scanning the open sea during the 15-minute trip to Daet Airport, he can’t help but think about his brother and 7 other companions who have remained missing. “My happiness will be complete if I can see all of them alive. We are like one big family,” said Bordeos.

Barefoot and suffering from his wounds, Bordeos become elated when told that his family members back home are all waiting for him.

He said that the sight of his children will remind him about one more thing: he must get back to work, and, that means he must go back fishing in that same open sea where he almost lost his life.

“I can do nothing. This is the only job that I know I can honorably feed my family,” said Bordeos as he waved his hand and bade goodbye.

Brandy Encontro (left) and Victor Bordeos (center) with Major Harold M Cabunoc on board the rescue chopper of the 505th SRG on their way to Daet, Camarines Norte on July 16, 2010.

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