SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/22 August)—Two elite divers from the Surigao Divers’ Club (SDC) have responded to the sea tragedy involving cargo ship M/V Sulpicio Express Siete and passenger vessel M/V Saint Thomas Aquinas last Friday evening.
Noting that dozens of Surigaonons were aboard the ill-fated passenger ship, Lyndon Cubillan, SDC president, and Johanne Jake Miranda, also a club officer, flew to Cebu the next morning to help in the rescue operations near Lauis Ledge off Talisay town.
Cubillan revealed that they also lend their modern diving equipment for use by the Philippine Navy divers.
“We sent our technical diving equipment to be used by the Navy for recon operation. When we arrived the day after, we took charge and took the first dive to put markers and the descent line to where the next dive team can go down,” he said.
Cubillan said they recovered a body and marked eight others in the sunken ship.
Veterans in diving wrecked ships, Cubillan, Miranda and two other divers from Cebu were among the first to get a glimpse of the ill-fated ship, leaving their daily routine to respond to the disaster.
These divers discovered M/V St. Thomas Aquinas lying on its left side (portside), its right side (starboard) deck is accessible from a depth of 23 meters, and the bottom is around 45 meters, said Bernil Gastardo, a technical diver from Cebu.
The Filipino Cave Divers team headed by Jake Miranda also dived at the area to take videos of the wreck’s point of impact and of the bunker oil leaking out, he said.
“The videos taken were used to assist the succeeding divers expand their awareness of the hazard points, oil leak sites and of areas where the victims can be recovered,” Gastardo said.
“The inside of the wreck is a maze and the jumble of debris can easily entangle divers. Overhead environment training and experience are required if one is to proceed inside the wreck,” he added.
“We have self-provided equipment and we were there just to help. We left our equipment so the Navy personnel can use them,” Cubillan said.
Cubillan and Miranda left Cebu on Tuesday as the dive had been suspended at 10 a.m., but they are expected to return when diving operations resume.
The duo chorused they just want to help put a closure to the families’ search for their loved ones.
“During and after the dive, I felt angry and sad at the same time. Angry because the ship officers (of whichever ship is at fault) did not do their jobs properly, and sad because there are so many innocent lives lost and now a lot of families are in limbo about the whereabouts of their loved ones,” Gastardo said.
“There are still missing people. And the oil spill needs to be contained and removed. It’s a big mess out there… a tragic, terrible and an avoidable mess,” he said on his Facebook account on Monday after a dive.
Ill-equipped Philippine Navy
Diving with the elite divers from the Philippine Navy, these private divers saw that government lacks cutting-edge diving equipment.
Miranda gave his pair of trilobite cutters to the Philippine Navy.
Rogelio Brizuela and Carlo Montiel, two of the four members of the Navy’s elite deep diving technical team, received the diving gear.
Miranda appealed to the different diving stores to sponsor some of the Navy’s diving equipment.
“I hope the major dive stores can give them some more equipment. They need s40s, nitrox tester, extra tech regulators, tech dive computers, gold lines, reels, clips, etc. GoPro cameras would be great, too,” Miranda said on his Facebook post.
M/V Saint Thomas Aquinas was carrying 20 tons of diesel oil and 120 tons of bunker fuel when it collided with cargo vessel M/V Sulpicio Express Siete and sank near Lauis Legde in Cebu on August 16.
This has caused an oil spill in various coastal towns in Cebu like in Cordova, reportedly affecting at least 1,000 fishermen in the area.
Some towns of Cebu had declared a state of calamity as the oil spill invaded the shorelines.
As of 9:00 a.m. Thursday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported 74 deaths while 46 others remained missing. (Roel Catoto/MindaNews)