SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/14 September) – “Hinay kaayo” (Very slow. It took so long).
Survivors of the ill-fated roll-on, roll-off ferry, MV Maharlika 2, said rescue operations took so long they thought all of them would die on Saturday while battling the rough seas for at least five hours, most of that in the dark.
Thirty-nine year old Sarah Andil of Cotabato City, suffered a leg injury for having jumped out of the sinking ferry when the boat captain, Juan Cayago, ordered them to “abandon ship” at 5:30 p.m.. The order came three hours and thirty minutes after the ferry experienced steering problems, she said.
The boat left the port of Lipata here at 11:30 a.m. Saturday for the supposed four-hour travel to Liloan in Southern Leyte. By 2 p.m., their ordeal began.
At the Caraga Regional Hospital where she is confined, Andil said the boat captain at “announced that the ship had a steering problem, that it lost its control, and we noticed that the boat had begun to lean on its starboard side.”
Where’s the rescue boat?
Andil said they were told not to panic because a rescue boat was on its way.
MV Maharlika 2’s manifest showed a total of 84 persons on board: 58 passengers and 26 crew members, as well as 13 rolling cargoes (trucks, a bus and a car). As of 11 a.m., however, three persons had been confirmed dead while 110 persons had been rescued. The number of missing has yet to be accounted for.
“We were repeatedly told by the captain that the rescue boat was on its way but we could not see anything from a distance,” Andil said, adding the ferry had sunk and no rescue boat was in sight.
She said a foreign vessel got to them at around 11:30 in the evening.
“My leg hit on the metal edge of the ship when I jumped off (MV Maharlika II),” she recalled. “I thought that was the end of my life.”
“Big waves hit us and I drank a lot of sea water. I could not move because my leg was badly hurt. It was horrible,” she said.
Andil said 9 of them including her children and relatives, were traveling back to Manila from a short vacation in Cotabato City.
She said she was hesitant to board the ferry on Saturday noon because it was so windy.
“We just took the risk because there was no advice to cancel the trip,” she said.
Andil said two of her relatives were still missing as of 10 a.m. Sunday.
“I pray and hope they are still alive,” she said.
“I can’t believe I am still alive”
Ruth Quibol of Marihatag, Surigao del Sur, echoed Andil’s complaint that rescue operations took so long.
“I cannot believe I am still alive,” the 36-year old Quibol said, sobbing.
“Why did it take so long to rescue us? We had been calling, most of us were calling the authorities,” she said.
“The boat captain sent distress call as early as 2 p.m. and yet we were rescued at 10 in the evening,” she said.
“Ako ang una nga babayi nga miambak sa barko” (I was the first woman to jump off) when the boat captain announced “Abandon ship,” said Quibol.
Quibol said she found herself in the waters with men who did not know how to swim. “A lot of people want to pull me down because they were panicking, I panicked too,” she said.
Battle for survival
Quibol is also confined at the Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City for minor bruises and scratches after battling for survival amid huge waves for five hours, the longer part spent in the dark.
“I actually began to sink because I was very tired and I drunk a lot of seawater,” she said, adding it was a good thing “someone pulled my hair and told me to hang on.”
Quibol recalled thatn when they jumped, there were at least three emergency boats readied for the passengers and she rode on one of them, with about 20 of her fellow passengers.
But Quibols said that at around 9 p.m. the emergency boat was filled with water “after its hull broke due to the big waves.”
She said among them, one drowned.
Quibol was supposed to be in Manila by Monday morning to get her passport at the agency where she applied for work in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. She said she wanted to get her passport because she changed her mind about working in Jeddah but the agency wants her to pay for expenses that incurred during her application.
Capt. Joseph Coyme, Deputy District Commander of the Phillipine Coast Guard in Northern Mindanao told reporters Sunday morning that they could not immediately respond to the distress call because they only have small boats that could not stand Saturday’s huge waves and strong winds.
Coyme said the ferry lost control off Pintuyan town in Southern Leyte at around 2 in the afternoon and was starting to lean on its starboard side, sending distress call to nearby ships. It sank 1,000 meter deep, 8 nautical miles from Lipata Port here, or about 1.5 nautical miles from the port of San Ricardo, Southern Leyte.
The boat captain ordered the passengers to abandon ship at 5:30 p.m.
An hour later, the ferry plummeted along with 13 rolling cargoes – a passenger bus, 11 trucks and a private car.
Survivors also complained that they could not get in touch with their relatives at the port or the hospital.
As of 1 p.m., no free telecommunication services had been given the survivors. (Roel Catoto / MindaNews)