MANILA (Updated, 7:23 p.m.) – Sea and air travel in central Philippines and some parts of northern Mindanao were cancelled Friday due to the low pressure area (LPA) that developed into a tropical depression, now named Agaton.

Almost 9,300 shipping passengers are currently stranded in Central Visayas and Bicol Region, while Cebu Pacific cancelled three flights: 5J215/216 (Cagayan de Oro-Davao-Cagayan de Oro); 5J381/382 (Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila); and 5J873/874 (Cebu-Surigao-Cebu).

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said Agaton has a maximum sustained winds of 55 kilometers per hour (kph) near the center and is forecasted to move southwestward at 5 kph.

Pagasa placed several provinces in Visayas and Mindanao under Storm Signal Number 1, including:

- Southern Leyte

- Surigao del Norte including Siargao Island

- Surigao del Sur

- Dinagat Province

- Agusan del Norte

- Agusan del Sur

- Davao Oriental

- Compostela Valley

"Tropical Depression Agaton will bring moderate to occasionally heavy rains and thunderstorms over Central Visayas and the rest of Eastern Visayas," Pagasa said.

"Tropical Depression Agaton is expected to be at 80 km north of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur or 75 km East of Butuan City Saturday afternoon. By Sunday afternoon, it will be at 50 km Southeast of Malaybalay, Bukidnon or 75 km northwest of Davao City and at 130 km west of General Santos City by Monday afternoon," Pagasa added.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Public Affairs chief Commander Armando Balilo said as of lunch time Friday, a total of 9,291 passengers are currently stranded particularly in the Ports of Cebu, Maasin, Sorsogon, Camarines Sur, Masbate and Surigao due to rough seas brought by the latest weather disturbance affecting several parts of the country.

The PCG reminded the public again that sea travel for commercial shipping lines is prohibited when a public storm warning signal is hoisted along specific areas affected by a typhoon.

The memorandum circular also mentioned that if a shipping vessel was caught by public storm warning in the middle of the sea; it should take shelter immediately and not risk the lives of their passengers.

“All those [shipping operators] who will violate rules will be subjected for the suspension or revocation of their franchises,” Balilo said.

Authorities warned the public that sea travel is risky over the seaboards of Luzon, Visayas and the Caraga region.

Balilo advised all fishermen, even in those areas not directly affected by the storm warning to temporarily postpone their fishing ventures until the sea and weather condition improves.

He also explained that the northeast monsoon and easterly winds also caused the sea condition along the eastern seaboard of the country to be rough.

Rescue operations

The PCG said that rescuers are having difficulty to get near along M/V Our Lady of All Nations that ran aground along Danajon Bank in Bohol while supposedly on its way to Cebu Port.

The Coast Guard spokesperson explained that rough sea condition and strong current are preventing the authorities from getting near the distressed shipping vessel carrying 90 passengers.

The PCG’s 56-meter search and rescue vessel BRP-Edsa (SARV-002) that is just near the area 2.6 nautical miles off Mabini Point in Cebu is already in the area but is still waiting for the sea condition to improve before approaching the passenger vessel which is on a shallow and rock part of the sea.

M/V Our Lady of All Nations’ sister ship also attempted to approach and help the passenger vessel but later backed out due to the risk of running aground the sea floor.

Earlier on Friday, 34 persons were killed due to flash floods and landslides in some provinces in Mindanao due to Agaton.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said that 65 persons were injured, while seven remained missing in the regions of northern Mindanao, Davao, Caraga, and Zamboanga Peninsula as non-stop heavy rainfall continuous to pour on the affected towns.

The disaster bureau noted that the weather disturbance has also affected 467 villages in 72 towns in 14 provinces in Mindanao or at least 463,527 individuals.

The NDRRMC also stated that 44,316 families or 212,661 people were displaced and brought to 358 evacuation centers. (SFP/Sunnex)