The Municipal Government of Coron, Palawan is hurrying to draft stricter policy measures on governing tour activities in Kayangan Lake after two Czech nationals died of drowning this week.
Councilor Michael Sadhwani said the victims might have gone beyond the expected activities in Coron’s most popular swimming destination.
“There is no existing regulation on what tour activities must be prohibited inside the lake. For the past year, the management of Kayangan Lake assumed that the regular activities done by tourists were sight-seeing, swimming and snorkeling,” Sadhwani told Palawan News.
LCDR Adrian Vargas, station commander of Philippine Coast Guard in Coron, found through their investigation that the victims, identified as Martin Sefcik (28, male) and Jakub Brazda (24, male) who are both from the Czech Republic, went ‘free diving’ in the area. Free diving, also called as breath-hold diving or skin diving, is a form of underwater diving that relies on the diver’s ability to hold their breath until resurfacing instead of breathing apparatus such as a scuba gear.
Free diving is becoming a popular sea diving activity in Coron. Licensed local dive centers are offering courses for the sport.
Coron’s local government, headed by Vice Mayor Joseph Armstrong Palanca, OIC Mayor, ordered the temporary closure of Kayangan Lake from tourism activities pending the establishment of enhanced security measures, signage, deployment of additional lifeguards and reiteration of compliance to existing ordinances by the local tourism stakeholders.
“On Friday, March 17, the Special Multi-Sectoral Team will conduct an ocular visit to Kayangan Lake to assess the readiness of the place to resume tour activities there,” Sadhwani, who also chairs the tourism and cultural heritage committee of the town’s council, said.
The bodies of the victims are still in Coron District Hospital upon instruction of health officer Dr. Alan Guintapan awaiting disposition order from Veronica Hirzel, consul of Czech Republic Embassy in Manila.
Earlier, Hirzel agreed that Coron LGU will conduct an embalming procedure for Sefcik and Brazda upon a written authority from the victims’ brother, John Sefcik, and thirteen of their friends and companions.
OIC Mayor Palanca also disseminated temporary regulations on daily tour operations with mandate to provide at least one tour guide per boat.
Palanca and Sadhwani also thanked all individuals, government offices and local organizations such as the Calamianes Association of Tourism Establishment (CATE) and Coron Tourist Boats Association (CTBA) for the immediate recovery of the victims’ body.
According to the local government’s Special Report, on March 13, 2017 at around 7:15 p.m., local tour guide Ezel Perez relayed to the Municipal Tourism Office the information on the missing Czech nationals at Kayangan Lake.
The PCG, through the assistance of local divers headed by Arni Pabilonio, recovered the victims’ lifeless bodies which were found at approximately 50 meters left side of the wooden platform entrance of the lake, in a depth of 21.8 meters.
The victims’ companion admitted that the incident was purely accident due to drowning.
They testified to investigators that they were enjoying swimming and snorkeling while the two victims were doing underwater free dive. They never noticed or observed any unusual situation until the group was preparing to leave and the two were then nowhere to be found.
Operation of the Kayangan Lake is managed by the local Tagbanua tribe in Coron Island.