7 Rowers Die in Dragon Boat Accident off Philippine Isle

Nonoy Espina and Mark Navales
Bacolod and Cotabato, Philippines
190925-PH-coast-guard-620.jpg In this handout photo in which authorities have blurred a person’s face, a Philippine Coast Guard team attends to members of a dragon boat after it capsized off Boracay island, Sept. 25, 2019.
[HO/Coast Guard Station Aklan]

Seven Filipino crew members died and 14 others, including two foreigners, were rescued Wednesday after their dragon boat capsized in strong waves during a practice run near the popular central Philippine tourist destination of Boracay island, authorities said.

The accident came as Philippine environment and tourism officials were working hard to revive the fortunes of the island nearly a year after it reopened to visitors. In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the island closed to tourists for a massive six-month cleanup.

A team from a local coast guard substation “rescued 14 persons from [the] capsized dragon boat and recovered seven casualties,” the Philippine Coast Guard said in a statement.

An investigation revealed that the dragon boat team “was having their practice when sudden strong waves hit them which caused them to capsize,” said Capt. Armand Balilo, a coast guard spokesman.

The boat sank about 200-300 meters (656-984 feet) from the shoreline, he said. Those who survived included two foreigners, a Chinese national and a Russian national who were both members of the crew.

Sea conditions gradually changed from calm to rough, with waves quickly filling the boat with water, a statement from the local government quoted Dragon Force members as saying.

“The boat sank, and the paddlers were holding on to the boat,” the statement said. “However, strong waves and current made the boat roll over, making it unstable and displaced the paddlers.”

The seven who died were not wearing life vests, and one of the victims did not know how to swim, the statement said.

The Philippine Dragon Boat Federation said the team apparently was training for an international competition, and the federation had encouraged dragon team members to use personal flotation devices while in the water.

“We also educate our members’ clubs [about] proper safety protocols in case of [the] capsizing or sinking of boats,” the federation said.

Dragon boat racing is a tradition in China with roots dating back more than 2,000 years. The boats are built in the shape of flatwater racing canoes, and carved and painted with dragon heads and tails.

Boracay has held competitions in the past as part of promoting itself as an ecotourism destination. The Boracay tourism sector pulled in about U.S. $1 billion in 2017, according to the Philippine Department of Tourism.

The government now controls the number of people who are allowed access to Boracay and its famed powdery white beaches, while locals and tourism business operators have complained about losses in revenue since the island reopened in October 2018.


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