ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines–More than 400 individuals from Sabah have been stranded on Taganak Island (Turtle Islands) in Tawi-Tawi province since Saturday night, waiting to be rescued by the government, a Philippine Navy official said on Sunday.
Philippine Navy Capt. Rene Yongque, commander of Naval Task Force 62, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that some 400 individuals reached the Philippine waters at past 7 p.m.
“They were guided by our Navy personnel, who were then on patrol towards Taganak Island, so that local government officials in that area can attend to them,” Yongque said.
Yongque said the naval vessel spotted the wooden boat braving the high waves. “Masyadong malalaki yung mga alon (The waves were too big),” he said.
“[They had very rough sailing] last night and they reached Taganak a bit late. But they are all safe,” he said.
He said the evacuees, mostly women and children, were on board the ML Fatima Editha III, a wooden-hulled boat.
Yongque said the Navy has sent a vessel to fetch the stranded evacuees.
From Taganak Island, the evacuees still have to travel some 540 kilometers of rough seas to reach Bongao town, capital of Tawi-Tawi. Taganak Island is some 40 kilometers away from Sabah.
Yongque said the evacuees on Taganak Island were being attended to by Mayor Nickerson Tan of nearby Mapun Island and Tawi-Tawi Vice Gov. Ruby Sahali-Tan.
But an officer of the Provincial Social Welfare Office in Tawi-Tawi told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that there were 512 individuals stranded in Taganak.
“We are waiting for the Navy to secure them and to bring them to Bongao so we can attend to them,” said the PSWDO officer, who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Undersecretary Pombaen Kadir of the Department of Social Welfare Department in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DSWD-ARMM) said almost a thousand individuals were monitored to have entered Philippine waters from Sabah.
“So far, we managed to serve about 700, including those on Taganak Island,” Kadir said.
Kadir said they have dispatched some 2,000 sacks of rice to the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. “We have also shipped some 3,000 food bags, complete with amenities, including milk for children,” he added.
Kadir said most of the fleeing evacuees docked at the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
But Kadir said not all of those who fled Sabah have been documented as “some immediately left without registering with the DSWD or the crisis center as soon as they arrived.”