SUAL, Pangasinan—When the Burmese cargo vessel, the MV Harita Bauxite, began sinking after 10 p.m. on Saturday, the captain, Win Kyu, blew a whistle and ordered the crew to abandon ship.
In about seven minutes, the ship, which was flying the Burmese flag, had sunk in the West Philippine off Bolinao town and 14 of its 24 crew members, including the captain, went missing.
Some were able to board two life rafts, while others jumped into the water. Nine of them survived but two were hurt. A survivor said one of their companions was bitten by a “big fish” and died.
Around an hour later, crew members of a passing Chinese vessel, the MV Jin Cheng, plucked them out of the water. A radio message was then sent to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to alert them about the accident.
The victims stayed on the Chinese vessel until PCG personnel came to get them on Sunday night and bring them to this town where they were examined by doctors, fed and given clothes.
This was how the survivors of the vessel recalled the ordeal they underwent while cruising in the West Philippine Sea, some 31 kilometers northwest of Bolinao in western Pangasinan.
The MV Harita Bauxite, carrying nickel ore, had come from Indonesia and was on its way to China when its engine conked out, said Ricardo Abalos, assistant station commander of the PCG in Sual.
Seven of the survivors were taken to the PCG station here at 9 p.m.
Abalos said the body of the lone fatality, the ship’s chief cook, Myint Aung, 54, was taken to the De Guzman Funeral Homes in Alaminos City.
The two injured—Cho Aye, 52, and Thant Zin Moe, 29—were taken to Lorma Hospital in San Fernando City, La Union. PCG reports said they were in stable condition, said Abalos.
In halting English and through hand gestures, Kyi Win, the vessel’s chief officer and second in command, said Myint Aung was bitten by a “big fish” in the buttocks, and this could have led to his death.
Asked if the fish might have been a shark, Kyi Win replied, “Maybe.”
Milchito Castro, director of the Office of Civil Defense in the Ilocos, said the PCG terminated its air-and-water search at 12:30 p.m. Monday.
He said that based on an aerial assessment by the PCG, which scoured the West Philippine Sea aboard a plane, there were no traces of the life rafts that the missing crew members could have boarded.
“But they saw many fishing boats and sea vessels passing through the area and it would be possible they would be spotted. We have also given instructions to agencies concerned to conduct foot patrols along the coastal areas as there could be survivors there,” he said.
Castro, however, said two Philippine Navy boats were still scouring the area where the cargo ship sank for any signs of the missing crew members.
The other survivors are Khin Maung Win, Aung Kyaw Khine, Aung Thu Nyein, Win Saw, Win Min Thein and Aung San Min.—With a report from Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon