Off-duty Coast Guard keeps passengers of sinking ship alive while awaiting rescue
CEBU CITY, Philippines — When Seaman First P03 Ralph Barajan took the boat from Loon, Bohol bound for Cebu City in the morning of Thursday, November 7, 2019, little did he know that he would play a key role in saving more than sixty people.
It is largely thank to the presence of mind, training and bravery of Barajan that he and 61 other passengers and crew of MV Siargao Princess survived the sinking of their vessel amid turbulent water in the sea off Sibonga, Cebu shortly before noon of Thursday.
Barajan was on his way back to the substation in Southern Cebu after a trip to Bohol province.
He was among the 56 passengers of MV Siargao Princess when the ship sank after water entered the vessel after it was battered strong waves at least an hour after they left the port in Loon, Bohol.
“Gusto ko lang ma save tanan mao tong naningkamot ko nga mag uban-uban mi tanan. Gibangan-bangan namo aron dili mi magbuwag. (I wanted everyone to be saved that’s why I tried to bring us all closer. We tied ourselves together so we will not drift apart),” said Barajan upon disembarking in Cebu City at around 3:30 p.m. after their rescue by his fellow Coast Guard personnel.
Barajan said tying the crew and the passengers together was the only way for him to ensure that they will not drift apart during the incident, and everyone will be accounted for as they await the rescue.
He said he ensured he was the last person to jump off the vessel so that no one was left behind.
Barajan said he was scared the entire time the ship was sinking. But he let the Coast Guard in him overcome fear and placed the safety of his fellow passengers above that of his own.
Maria Encarnacion Arellano, 65, remembered vividly the two long hours she spent with her sick husband floating in the sea before the PCG-7 responders came to their rescue.
Arellano was among the survivors who could testify to the bravery of Barajan, who was able to direct the passengers and crew when the ship began to sink.
She said Barajan took the initiative to ensure all passengers and crew wore life vests and that they stayed close together before the rescue.
“Mga duha ka oras pud mig naglutaw-lutaw. Naggunit ra mis among mga life jacket. May gani naa toy taga Coast Guard nga nakasakay namo nga nagtabang sa amoa. (We were floating on the sea for two hours. We held on to our life jacket. It was fortunate that there was Coast Guard personnel who was also a passenger and he helped us),” she said.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Michael Encina, spokesperson of PCG-7, praised the “level-headedness” of Barajan as his leadership skills as a Coast Guard was essential to keep the passengers and crew alive during the maritime accident.
Encina said through Barajan’s initiative, the passengers were all accounted for when the rescue team finally came.
“Siya ang nagbibigay nga instruction sa mga pasahero ano ang gagawin. Tama po ang ginawa nila na nagcongregate sila sa iisang area para madali silang makita,” said Encina.
(Barajan instructed the passengers on what to do. What they did was right, they congregated in one area so can easily be seen.)
Encina said this was the proper technique during maritime accidents because PCG-7 would often send ahead aerial responders to spot the location of the accident and survivors.
Because of Barajan’s bravery, the seven rescued crew and 52 of the passengers, including Barajan, arrived at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Aduano Wharf, Pier 3, in Cebu City on board BRP Suluan, and were immediately provided with medical attention by the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO) team.
Encina said three other passengers were separated from the others as they were brought to the Carcar Provincial Hospital since they were able jump off the vessel as it was sinking and reached the port of Carcar City by swimming the nine-kilometer distance from where the vessel capsized.
The husband of Arellano, 65-year old Eduardo Arellano, who hails from Davao City, fell ill during the rescue, and was taken out of BRP Suluan in a stretcher because of dizziness and vomiting brought on by hypertension.
Arellano, said they were on their way Sibonga to visit the Our Lady of Simala Shrine. They were coming from a vacation in Tubigon, Bohol.
She said her husband’s blood pressure rose because they were floating on the sea for at least two hours before the rescue.
Arellano’s husband was taken to the Cebu City Medical Center immediately after he was brought down from BRP Suluan.
Passenger Luben Palma, 28, from Loon, Bohol, said the big waves that rocked the fast craft sometime around 10:30 a.m.
He narrated that at past 11 a.m., the forward portion of the ship began to sink, throwing the passengers into panic. Palma said he threw his four-year-old daughter into the sea wearing a life vest and he immediately followed.
He and his family floated along with the rest of the passengers for two hours until the responding PCG team on board BRP Suluan was able to rescue them.
Encina said that all passengers will be provided with their basic needs at the PCG-7 headquarters including food and clothes.
Those who are from Bohol may go home via the BRP Suluan, while those living in Cebu will be brought home through the vans provided for PCG-7.
The captain and the crew of the ship are currently under the custody of PCG-7, as the investigation begin into the incident.
Captain Antonio Conag, the captain of MV Siargao Princess, will be asked to file a Maritime Protest on the incident as part of the investigation process. /elb
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