Gem-Ver skipper fired as rift splits boat owners, crew
SAN PEDRO CITY, Laguna, Philippines — The fishing boat hit by a Chinese trawler in the West Philippine Sea in June has been repaired and ready to sail again, only this time with a new captain on board.
Junel Insigne, Gem-Ver 1’s skipper when a Chinese trawler hit and sank the boat at Recto (Reed) Bank, was recently fired by his employers, the family of boat owner Arlinda dela Torre.
“May sama po ako ng loob sa kanila (Dela Torres) bago pa po sumakay (I’ve had ill feelings toward them even before Gem-Ver’s expedition in June). I never told them about it but they must have heard it from my colleagues and fired me,” Insigne said.
He did not elaborate, but there was apparently an ongoing rift between him and the Dela Torres that also divided them as to what to do with the fishing boat Pengyou, which was donated by the Chinese after Gem-Ver 1 was damaged.
Ma. Fe dela Torre, a relative of the Gem-Ver owners, said Insigne was making his own decisions without consulting them and the 21 other crew members that had formed the Recto Bank Survivors Fisherfolks Association.
Chinese tycoon Xue Chengbiao of the Shanghai Jucheng Group donated the 10.09-ton Pengyou to the association, whose members are residents of San Jose town in Occidental Mindoro province.
“Pengyou” in Chinese means “friend.”
The donation was coursed through the office of Ramon Tulfo, the special envoy for public diplomacy to China, with a turnover held at the Batangas port on Sept. 22.
One of the crew members, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal by his colleagues, said the Dela Torres wanted to return Pengyou to its donor since it was “useless” anyway.
He said the boat was “too weak” for the open sea, particularly for expeditions to the Recto Bank, a rich fishing ground, which would take weeks.
That boat and some P44,000 cash were the only compensation, so far, from the Chinese, since the Guangdong Fishery Mutual Insurance Association on Aug. 28 issued an apology on behalf of the Chinese trawler involved in the Recto Bank incident.
These, however, came from a private donor, while no payment had been made by the trawler’s company or the Chinese government to the Filipino crew that the trawler abandoned at sea.
Elizer Salilig, regional director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Mimaropa, said he would still communicate with Tulfo’s office on how to go about returning the vessel.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Salilig said he talked to the association members, who said they wanted to “abandon the boat (Pengyou) at sea.”
“I said, ’wag naman. Ipahila na lang sa tabi (Don’t abandon it and just pull it to the shore),” he said.
Insigne said he did not know about the plan to return Pengyou to its donor as he was actually hoping he could sail on it for a living.
“It’s been nearing six months that we didn’t have a job. How are we supposed to survive?” Insigne said in a separate telephone interview.
Dela Torre said the association’s members would sit down and discuss what to do with Pengyou, “para wala na pong pagkakaguluhan (so there won’t be any source of trouble).”
But Salilig doubted the vessel’s usability, calling it “defective” as it lacked fishing gears and with a cabin too small that only four people could fit in.
He said the boat needed some more repairs and fortifications that would cost “millions” of pesos.
“Para lang silang kumuha ng bato na ipukpok sa ulo nila (It’s like picking a rock to hit their heads),” Salilig said of the amount needed to get Pengyou ready for sailing.
As it turned out, he said the donated boat was actually Philippine-made. He said the boat’s records showed that Pengyou was built in Batangas province in 2005 and was sold to Chengbiao’s group, which in turn donated it to the Mindoro fishermen.
Salilig said he did not know which Filipino company built the boat and for how much it was sold to Chengbiao.
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