Freeman Region

2 'missing' foreigners rescued off Apo island

Juancho R. Gallarde - The Freeman

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines — Two foreign nationals, who went scuba diving in the internationally renowned dive destination of Apo Island in Dauin, Negros Oriental, were rescued several hours after they were reported missing at 4 p.m. Monday.

The two were identified as Matthew La France of Canada, 41, temporarily residing in Lipayo, Dauin, Negros Oriental, and Swayam Rawla, 30, Indian national but with an American citizenship and with local address at Dumaguete Spring Hotel in Lipayo, Dauin.

The two had been at sea for nine hours after they were carried away by strong current and waves off Apo Island on Monday afternoon.

Philippine Coast Guard-Dumaguete station commander, Lt. Junior Grade Donna Liza Ramacho, immediately alerted the CG station command in Apo Island as well as other units to launch a search operation.

After hours of scouring the area, they had to temporarily call off the search because it was getting dark and would have resumed the following day. They, however, received a word that a cargo vessel bound for Iloilo City had seen the two divers in the water and rescued them.

Initial report said that around 9:20 p.m. Monday, one of the crew members of M/V Fortune Gold, a 74-meter Philippine-flagged cargo vessel loaded with 57,000 sacks of cement, heard shouts for help at sea. It took them 25 minutes to finally find the two who were afloat with their respective diving gears, said the ship captain Ricarte Hibalay of Bohol.

Hibalay said the exact location of the two foreigners was 11.8 nautical miles southwest of Apo Island. He said the two would have drifted further south due to the strong current and waves and could have reached the Mindanao sea. He said he decided to bring the rescued divers to the port of Dumaguete.

On hand to meet the rescued divers upon docking of the M/V Fortune Gold on or about 2:45 a.m. Tuesday at the Dumaguete port were the One Rescue, Dumaguete Police, the tourist police, and Ramacho herself.

Ramacho said the efforts made by the cargo vessel to find the divers who were shouting for help deserves recognition.

In an interview, La France, one of the instructors of Dumaguete Divers dotcom, said they realized how fortunate they were, knowing they had little chance of being rescued in the middle of the sea, otherwise they could have drifted to Mindanao.

His wristwatch computer showed they started to go down at 1:08 Monday afternoon and their dive time was only 46 minutes. He said he was surprised why the boat that dropped them off at Apo Island failed to come back for them at the designated area and time.

La France said they noticed that the boat headed back to mainland Apo Island at about 4:21 p.m. He said they tried to swim back to the island but the current was so strong and carried them despite them dropping some of their weight belts.

Ramacho said a formal investigation is being conducted to validate the claims of the two divers. She said she will be asking for the side of the motorboat operator or its skipper because it was not the first time that the two went scuba diving in the area. (FREEMAN)

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