Survivor recounts events leading to Philippine cargo ship grounding

Photo: Philippine Coast Guard

The Philippine Coast Guard has disclosed details of the events that led to a vessel grounding incident in Surigao del Norte province earlier this week.

This development came after one of the seven surviving crewmen of the ore carrier Cebu Great Ocean told coast guard officials of how he and his companions ended up ashore and were subsequently found after they were initially reported as missing.

Vessel chief officer Roger Polo said that the trouble began while they were anchored off Tubay in Agusan del Norte province over 37 nautical miles away on Saturday, April 17.

Mr Polo, who is still recuperating in hospital, said that both anchors were lowered at the time. However, strong winds and rough waves caused the starboard side anchor chain to be severed at around 16:00 local time.

The captain then ordered the crew to secure the port side anchor and bring the vessel to the waters off the nearby town of Nasipit to take shelter. The captain ultimately decided to remain off Tubay due to the worsening weather.

Because the vessel was no longer anchored, it began to drift. By 23:00, it started to list five to six degrees to starboard, causing some of the onboard cargo of nickel ore to spill into the sea.

The crew worked all through the night to try to shift the cargo to port. By 07:00 the following morning, the list had worsened to 10 degrees and water ingress was reported in the engine room and the steering room.

Efforts to pump out the seawater failed, and at 09:00, the captain gave the order to abandon ship. All 20 crew donned lifejackets and jumped into the water 50 nautical miles from the coast.

Mr Polo said that the captain then decided to swim to shore to call for help. It was the last time he was seen by any of the crew.

The remaining crew continued to drift over the next 48 hours until they ended up ashore off the towns of San Francisco and Malimono in Surigao del Norte. Seven survivors and four deceased individuals were subsequently found by coast guard and police officials and local residents by the morning of Tuesday, April 20, less than 24 hours after Cebu Great Ocean ran aground off Malimono.

The survivors have since been brought to various hospitals.

At 17:30 on Thursday, April 22, the coast guard temporarily suspended the search for the nine missing crewmen due to poor visibility and unfavourable weather and sea conditions.

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