SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/08 December)– Death beckoned twice for boat captain Leopoldo S. Arias, a seasoned sailor in the vast seas of the Pacific, when his light boat Mark Anthony 35 flipped and sank as the huge waves brought by Typhoon Pablo slammed at them at about 1 a.m. Monday.
This was December 3, when Mark Anthony 35, together with its mother boat Lorna 9, and two other fishing vessels Lorna 7 and Lorna 8 were sailing for safety towards Mati, Davao Oriental. In the past three months, they were fishing off the seas of Payao in Siargao Island.
“We were already at 60 when it (typhoon) hit us,” Leopoldo said, referring to 60 as the distance in nautical miles from the shorelines of the nearest island of Hinatuan Islands where Typhoon Pablo was supposed to landfall.
The super typhoon (international name Bopha) was then packing maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers per hour (kph) and gustiness of 210 kph.
Leopoldo recalled telling his boat master as early as Saturday that they should be getting home to General Santos City.
But the apparent “bright and sunny” weather condition in the Pacific seas off Siargao Island that time did not cause alarm to his immediate superior.
“It’s still okay…let’s just wait and see,” Leopoldo quoted his immediate superior’s response.
But the looming typhoon left him uneasy for the rest of the day until Sunday when he told his two crewmembers—younger brother Rolly and chief mate Joemar N. Quiritan—to prepare their lifesaver, which they called torpedo (an ingenuous invention of a huge foam tied together with a rope).
“I was still trying to get through but the speed of the typhoon was too fast compared to the speed of our boat,” Leopoldo added.
But as they tried to speed up in order to escape Pablo, another tortuous task forced them to back track from their course.
“Nag rescue man pud mi sa kauban namo mao nibalik mi (We also rescued our companions that’s why we had to go back),” Rolly said.
Lorna 8 and Lorna 7, all mother boats under RLG Fishing Company, were joining the fleet of fishing vessels that were escaping the wrath of Pablo on the night of December 2, Leopoldo said.
Sometime Sunday night, Leopoldo said they were already ahead of the fleet sailing towards the direction of Mati when Lorna 8, as well as Lorna 9, sent distress calls.
The rescue meant they had to bring the boats toward the direction that the waves will not directly hit them.
“Our boat was the only one that was in good condition so we had to go back,” Rolly added.
Leopoldo, after answering the distress calls, assumed they were all sailing towards the same direction.
“I think it was already 11 o’clock…and I did not hear any calls already [so we went ahead]. It was quiet,” the boat captain said in the verge of tears while interviewed in his hospital bed at the trauma room of the Caraga Regional Hospital on Thursday.
Eventually, the Arias brothers and Quiritan were rescued by M/V Reefer Cala Portese off the seas of Liangga Bay on Wednesday morning between 9 to 10 a.m.
A minute under the sea
Leopoldo said it was about 1 a.m. Monday when their boat flipped and they went down under.
“It was about a minute when we went under the boat and this huge emptiness engulfed us for several seconds and then we were tossed inside the boat. I told myself this is really my end,” the 43-year old father of four said in the vernacular.
He and his brother were the first to get out of the capsized light boat followed by Quiritan.
“I was wearing a life vest and it got entangled in some part of the boat,” Quiritan, who suffered the most in the ordeal, said. The 27-year old fisher said he can’t remember how he managed to get out of the boat. He suffered injuries in his stomach, chest and legs.
Leopoldo said it was pitch dark and the 20 to 30-foot waves tossed them in and out of the ocean, coupled with the torrential rain.
“We had our flashlight but it did not last because the water eventually seeped inside it,” he said.
But for several hours, the flashlight gave them the opportunity to tie themselves together using the rope and then the torpedo. They were also using the flashlight hopefully to get the attention of other vessels, but for naught.
“I doubt if they also saw us because I think they also tried to save themselves from the rampaging waves and the rains,” he added.
Their ordeal lasted for three days and three nights, and the tossing stopped on the early morning of Wednesday.
When Leopoldo learned about the typhoon, he prepared 20 liters of water stocked in a blue container, a flashlight, his ID, and his bag. He ordered the same to his younger brother Rolly and Quiritan.
“I am always like this, preparing the water, even two containers of it, whenever a typhoon is coming,” he said.
But Pablo was different. He was strong and a super typhoon, he said.
Death beckons again
The second thought that death was inevitable was on Tuesday night, December 4, when Quiritan was already losing strength.
“My body was already shaking at the time due to the cold and fatigue and he (Quiritan) was already losing out on us. We thought maybe we should stop kicking and swimming and just keep afloat,” Leopoldo said.
But the three of them still kept on with the little hope that is left of them–by entrusting everything to God and by engaging in conversations and banters.
At one time, they talked of Manny Pacquiao’s fight, and Rolly said they can’t just “pass out” because on Sunday, their “kababayan” (townmate) will fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Swimming to safety
With the help of the torpedo lifesaver, they tried their way to “safer grounds.”
“Sige lang mi og kampay-kampay og sikad,” (We kept on just flapping and kicking),” Rolly said.
At times when fatigue sinks in, they had to bring their feet upwards on top of the torpedo to relax. Leopoldo’s primary concern was Quiritan, whom they have to bring to the top of the “torpedo” so he can rest.
“It was actually the water that helped us to survive. If we get hungry and tired, we drink lots of water, and once energized, we continue with our kicking and flapping,” he said.
Rolly did not mind losing his cellular phone worth P6,000, saying what is important was they were saved. “We were really crying hard when we saw Cala Portese turned around for us.”
Leopoldo said they were still crying so hard when they reached the rescue ship’s deck and that they could not even talk because their lips were parched.
“The captain of the ship was so happy to see us alive that he even prepared a banquet for us. But I did not even want to eat because I was so tired,” he added.
A call from her 17-year old daughter somehow eased the fatigue he felt.
“We’re lucky there were no sharks even if we were bleeding already. A group of fish was actually encircling us for the rest of our ordeal. We even saw them when we were already on board the (rescue) ship,” Rolly said.
Quiritan is planning to offer a thanksgiving mass in six different Catholic churches in their hometown and light candles. All three are residents of Diamond Valley, Tambler in General Santos City.
“Now I really believe that there is God,” Quiritan said in a soft voice.
“Pahuway sa mi kay wa pa mahuman among lisang (We will take a break first because the horrors remain),” Rolly said.
“Mosugot na lang siguro ko mag drive lang (fish car) bisan gamay ra og sweldo (I think I will just accept driving a fish car even if the pay is not so good),” Leopoldo said. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)