The lack of a search and rescue ship has stopped Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel stationed at the northern tip of Luzon from coming to the aid of 22 crew members of a Vietnamese ship, which sank in the Pacific Ocean on Christmas Day.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Ernesto Relon, acting commander of the PCG station in Aparri, Cagayan, said his team has yet to launch a search and rescue mission for the Vietnamese crew members of M/V Vinalines Queen, a 21,247-ton cargo vessel.
"We have received instructions from higher headquarters to go to the site but we cannot [do it] because our unit does not have the kind of large seacraft that can withstand huge waves in that part of the Pacific Ocean," Relon said.
He said Vinalines Queen, owned by the Vietnam National Shipping Lines, was reported at around 2 p.m. on December 25 to have been listing off in the high seas, about 111 nautical miles (205 kilometers) east of Batan Island in Batanes.
"It was first reported to have tilted 18 degrees on its left side, before its operators lost all radio contact," he said.
The best that the Coast Guard's Aparri unit could do was to conduct monitoring of any discovery of survivors after they alerted residents and officials of coastal villages in Calayan, Camiguin, Fuga, Dalupiri and Babuyan islands, said Relon.
Poor weather and the distance of the accident site from Luzon's mainland have also hampered a two-day aerial search using one of the Coast Guard's aircraft on Wednesday, preventing them from finding the ship in the high seas.
Police officials in the region said they could not get any confirmation on the fate of the vessel and 22 of its 23 Vietnamese crewmen.
"No report of that nature has reached my office," said Chief Superintendent Rodrigo de Gracia, Cagayan Valley police director.
The Vietnamese media reported that one Dau Ngoc Hung, the lone survivor, was flown from Singapore and had arrived in Hanoi on Wednesday after he was rescued on December 30 by crew members of MV London Courage, a British cargo vessel.
"He was lucky that he was seen by another vessel because part of the ocean is the navigational lane of international ships," Relon said.
Vinalines Queen was said to be carrying about 54 tons of nickel bound for China from Morowali, Indonesia, when it was battered by huge waves in the Pacific and sank.
The Philippine Navy recently upgraded its fleet with the purchase of a refurbished warship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, which had been deployed to the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea) amid tension there with China.
Officials recently said the Gregorio del Pilar would provide security to the Malampaya gas-to-power project off Palawan.
The ship had been bought and refurbished in the United States.