M/V Asia Malaysia sinks off Iloilo waters, all 147 on-board rescued

By Florence F. Hibionada

ILOILO CITY – An Iloilo-bound vessel of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines met its last voyage yesterday with 147 on-board the ill-fated trip from Cebu. They were only two hours away from the port of destination when disaster struck.

Among the survivors was a 10-month old baby and 70-year old Eufemia Abonales , the youngest and oldest of the 107 passengers respectively. There were also 35 crew members on board led by Ship Captain Romualdo Gualdizo, the data as culled from the official Master’s Oath of Safe Departure (MOSD).

Scheduled to arrive about 6am, M/V Asia Malaysia never made it to Iloilo Arrastre Port as distress calls were instead made starting 5am.

According to Commodore Athelo Ybanez, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Western Visayas District Commander, first to be alerted was the PCG in Bacolod. In minutes, more distress calls came as passengers managed to inform relatives by phone and text messages. Even Iloilo City-based radio stations received pleas for rescue.

“At about that time (5am), M/V Asia Malaysia started to list on the right, by the starboard side. They were already in the vicinity of Calabasa Island off Ajuy, Iloilo or about 33 nautical miles to Iloilo City,” Commander Ybanez said. “Immediately, rescue was launched with vessels nearby helping as well.”

First to arrive in the scene of incident was Cokaliong Shipping’s Filipinas Cebu that was also en route to Iloilo City. Next to respond was motor tanker Fil-Visayas bound for Bacolod as fishermen in the vicinity also rushed to help.

To note, the area is some 4 nautical miles to nearest shore.

Commander Ybanez further sought assistance of Bantay-Dagat patrol boats of the Iloilo Provincial Government as a PCG helicopter and vessel were also ordered in the scene.

Said PCG response units were temporary pulled out from a search and rescue mission in Masbate and will remain here for aerial and sea survey. With all on-board successfully rescued, next concern is the possibility of oil spill.

Yet Ybanez was quick to allay fears of “significant” spillage saying the incident is likely to only cause engine room oil spill with the vessel’s tanks expected to remain secure. Nevertheless, the PCG will have oil spill booms readied to contain the area.

“At about 6am, an order to abandon ship was made by the Captain with all of the passengers given life-jackets and transfer made to responding rescue vessels. The Ship Captain and nine others of the senior crew members stayed behind and were the last to abandon ship. By 8am we have gathered that a full rescue was made and by 8:50am, the vessel has totally sunk,” Commander Ybanez continued.

M/V Asia Malaysia was acquired by Trans-Asia Shipping Lines in 1997 and served Cebu-Iloilo vice versa route. It was 71.6 meters in length with a 551 capacity. It was to be the first and last maritime incident for said vessel off to yesterday’s “Voyage 89.”

86 of the rescued passengers were in the Economy Class while 18 were in the Tourist Class and 3 from Cabin Class.

A Special Board of Marine Investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the incident, validate liability, if any, of the Ship Captain, officers and crew on board. Further still, the investigation will look into corrective measure to avert similar incidents in the future.

PCG Western Visayas Deputy Commander, Captaiin Pedro Tinampay heads the probe body with 3 other PCG officers as members. The investigation is expected to start today which will hear the accounts of the survivors and crew.

Radio accounts of survivors heard similar stories of fear in the last minutes on board the vessel yet “don’t panic” pleas were made from both crew members and their fellow passengers.

Initially heard were concerns of survivors who had difficulty with the lifejackets given to them.

“Indi kami kabalo magtakod dala na sang nerbyos namon. Ginbuligan lang kami sang crew kag buligay man kami nga mga pasahero (We didn’t know how to put it on because of our nervousness. The crew helped us and fellow passengers),” a survivor bound for San Joaquin, Iloilo said.

While no official word has been released on the cause, it was believed that the listing was brought by the sudden imbalance of the vessel’s cargoes. This as huge waves hit the vessel, caused it to list on the right side and the ropes that secured the cargoes snapped.

By then M/V Asia Malaysia failed to recover its position as sea water slowly overwhelmed the vessel.

“We will look into the incident but for now we are grateful of full rescue of both the passengers and the crew,” Commander Ybanez ended.

PCG called on the local Red Cross for assistance and treatment of the survivors who were brought back to Iloilo and Bacolod cities.

Survivors were a mixed group of Ilonggos, Cebuanos and included residents of Antique Province.