3 tourists barely survive 2-day sea ordeal

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06:46 AM December 22nd, 2012

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By: Nestor P. Burgos Jr., December 22nd, 2012 06:46 AM

ILOILO CITY—Battling cold winds and rampaging waves while praying for help to come, three Australia-based foreigners survived two days clinging to a capsized boat until they were rescued off the waters of Oriental Mindoro on Thursday.

German tourists Ralf Harald Auer, 54, his son Thomas and Australian family friend Joshua Marsh, both 20 years old, were rescued Thursday by a passing freighter which took them to the central port of Iloilo, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer Venerando Celiz said.

“They were our last hope. We knew we couldn’t survive another day,” said Auer a few hours after they arrived on Friday in Iloilo, where the ship that picked them up docked.

The three are all residents of Melbourne, Australia, and were vacationing in Marinduque, home province of Auer’s wife.

They were taken to the St. Paul’s Hospital Iloilo and treated for bruises and dehydration before they were billeted at the Amigo Terrace Hotel, according to Celiz.

Auer said he was praying for the safety of their Filipino boat operator Ruben Pilar who remained missing as of Friday afternoon.

“We tried to persuade him not to leave the boat but he wanted to get help for us,” Auer said.

He said Pilar swam toward the shore to seek help after their 20-foot boat capsized while they were island-hopping at around 3 p.m. on Dec. 18.

The accident occurred as the boat attempted a 40-kilometer (25-mile) crossing to Marinduque island, where Auer’s Philippine wife comes from, said Celiz.

“They were weakened by lack of food and having been in the water for two days and two nights,” the officer said, adding that a notice had been issued for boats to be on the lookout for the missing Filipino.

Auer thanked the crew of cargo ship MV Foremost Trader who rescued them around 11:30 a.m on Dec. 20.

“You are our savior,” he repeatedly told ship captain Roberto Tumalaytay during a simple ceremony where a citation to the ship’s crew was given by Commodore Athelo Ybañez, Western Visayas Coast Guard commander.

“We tried hard to stay alive as long as possible,” Auer said.

The three tied ropes to hold on and sat at the bottom of the capsized boat and struggled not to be thrown off by the waves. They cut out tarpaulin sheets to use as jackets and as a makeshift flag which they waved at passing ships.

“We had 10 liters of water with us and no food. We rationed our water by drinking a cup each,” Auer said.

Dehydrated and exhausted, Thomas said they were already hallucinating on the second day of their ordeal.

“I keep seeing coconut trees in the middle of the sea or the shoreline,” he said.

Marsh said they had high hopes during the first few hours but this waned after several ships probably failed to see them.

Tumalaytay said a crew member alerted them about the boat with three persons waving a flag around 10 miles off Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro.

“We were not sure at first that they were seeking help because we could not see them clearly because of the huge waves which reached from three to four meters tall,” he said.

It took more than an hour to maneuver the ship near the capsized boat of the big waves. The crew members threw life rings to the survivors and pulled them towards the ship.

“They were exhausted and we gave them water to drink gradually and warm soup,” Tumalaytay said.

The three then called their families using the Tumalaytay’s mobile phone.

“We saw the ship passed by and we thought they didn’t see us. Then it turned back. It was the greatest moment in my life,” Thomas said. With reports from AP, AFP and Tina G. Santos

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