Tue, Jan 25, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Missing vessel arrives in Leyte

CREW SCOLDED:The US Coast Guard expressed relief that a catamaran carrying five Americans had been found, but faulted the crew for failing to take proper precautions

AP, MANILA

Rescuers talk to the passengers of The Pineapple off Dinagat Island, southern Philippines on Sunday. The Philippine coast guard located the sailboat about a week after it was reported missing en route from Guam to Cebu.

Photo: AFP

Five Americans stepped ashore in good health yesterday in the central Philippines following an international search for their sailboat when it failed to arrive on time in its voyage from the Pacific island of Guam, officials said.

The vessel, called The Pineapple, ran into bad weather after departing from Guam on Jan. 6 on a journey to the Philippines and relatives of the crew — four men and a woman — reported them missing on Jan. 18.

A Philippine coast guard ship reached the 11m catamaran on Sunday after it was spotted by plane the previous day.

Rescuers escorted the vessel to the port of Maasin on Leyte Island, where the crew refueled, got their passports stamped and treated themselves to a meal, the coast guard said.

With one of its two rudders damaged, The Pineapple will later be escorted to its original destination on Cebu Island.

“They’re all in fine health,” coast guard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said of the crew, including a Filipino-American in the US air force. The US embassy in Manila has declined to release their identities and hometowns.

The US Coast Guard, which said it had spent 63 hours searching for the sailboat, expressed relief that the boat was found but faulted the crew for failing to take proper precautions. The vessel did not carry long-distance communication or emergency distress equipment and did not file a comprehensive float plan, the agency said.

“I’m elated for the family and friends of The Pineapple, but compelled to point out that this voyage was made without taking basic, commonsense precautions,” said Captain Thomas Sparks, US Coast Guard Guam commander.

A Philippine coast guard plane spotted the sailboat on Saturday off the southern island of Dinagat, but was not able to confirm its identity until Sunday when the weather cleared, Tamayo said.

A woman aboard the boat was able to contact her husband by cellphone at 1:30pm on Sunday — apparently once she came within range of cellphone service — and he called rescuers in Guam to give them the boat’s coordinates, the US Coast Guard said in a statement.

“The husband confirmed the vessel ran into bad weather and suffered a rudder and radio casualty. This delayed The Pineapple’s voyage but it was never in danger of sinking,” the statement said.

Guam, a US territory, is about 2,290km east of Cebu, where heavy rains and rough seas have been reported in recent weeks.

The US Coast Guard had deployed a HC-130 Hercules aircraft, two Navy P-3 Orion planes, two Air Force C-12s and a patrol ship to search an area of 317,530km2 for more than 63 hours, the agency said.

US authorities were informed of the discovery by Philippine authorities and have been in touch with Philippine officials to provide help to the Americans, US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said.

A video taken from a search plane showed four of the Americans on top of the catamaran as a rubber boat with coast guard personnel approached.

Many Philippine provinces have experienced rough seas amid unusually heavy rains since late last month. At least 71 people have died and 23 others remain missing from the stormy weather.

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