PH boat Gem-Ver returns to West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine fishing boat Gem-Ver is sailing back to Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea over 5 months since its 22 fishermen were nearly left for dead in  open waters.

Gem-Ver embarked on its return voyage to Recto Bank on Saturday, November 23, as it left its home port in Barangay San Roque, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro at around 4 pm.

The fishing voyage is the first since its 22 fishermen set out to Recto Bank on May 29. The fishing trip was supposed to last for at least 15 days but on the 12th day, a Chinese vessel rammed, sank, and abandoned it in the dead of night on June 9. (READ: THE SINKING OF GEM-VER: Barko! May babanggang barko!)

The near-death experience of Gem-Ver’s fishermen – downplayed by the Philippine government as a “maritime incident” – was one the biggest crises to hit the Duterte administration. The sinking put a spotlight on President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy in the West Philippine Sea and tested his warm ties with Beijing. 

The only option. Before Gem-Ver’s return voyage to the West Philippine Sea, its men lost income from at least 5 fishing trips as they worked to repair the damaged boat. They worked 6 days a week for 5 months to reinforce the boat and restore the stern, which a speeding Chinese vessel tore away. (READ: Despite Duterte, Gem-Ver fishermen buckle down to work)

On Thursday, November 14, Gem-Ver finally returned to its element in the water after its men hauled the ship back to sea, pulling and pushing the structure for hours until it hit the water.

The boat, though now ready for a fishing trip, will not see all its men return with it. Of the original 22 who were on Gem-Ver's ill-starred voyage, 16 returned for its first trip back since the sinking. Gone are the captain Junel Insigne and mechanic Boy Gordiones. (IN THEIR OWN WORDS: The new fishermen of Gem-Ver)

Still reeling from the tragedy, the fishermen said they were returning to Recto Bank because it was the only way they could make a living.

After 5 months without work, they said it was their only option. Gem-Ver and its men hope to return home by Christmas. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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