For 23-year-old Jose Mari Garbo and company, their training and experience as seafarers equipped them with the necessary skills that helped them survive the ordeal that they went through after their ferry, Princess of the Stars, capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon last Saturday.
Garbo, one of 10 seafarers who survived typhoon "Frank" over the weekend, was among the 28 passengers of the ill-fated ship who were treated at the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) head office in South Harbor, Manila.
"We (seamen) were more organized because we knew what to do. We knew how to balance. There were times that the raft would be forced to fold because it was being battered by the strong waves. We would then put our feet on the edge of the raft to keep it from folding," recalled Garbo of their experience in the lifeboat.
Garbo, who has been working for a year and a half as a seafarer for international vessels, said that he was on his way to Liloan, Cebu. Upon learning that the ship was in trouble, he looked for a way to reach the deck. He used the fire hose, tied to one of the railings, as a makeshift rope made by another seaman-passenger, 31-year-old Ray Padin of Cebu City.
"Unlike other passengers who jumped into the sea at a high elevation, I decided to wait for the ship to get closer to the sea before I decided to jump because I remembered in the movie 'Titanic' that some of the passengers who jumped at a higher elevation hit the ship's railings. It was safer if I jumped closer to the sea," Garbo said.
He added that apart from him, there were nine other seafarers on board the life raft. They later discovered that they came from the same school, the University of Cebu. Garbo shared that whenever their raft would be filled with sea and rainwater, they would use their shoes and plastic bags to remove the water, adding that this was necessary so their boat would not sink.
"I thought it was only a dream. I had to pinch my forehead just to make sure that what was happening was real... At that time, I was already calling all the saints and all my grandparents for help. I was praying for help," recounted Garbo.
They spent 22 hours at sea before they finally saw land. But when they were already some 50 meters away from the Mulanay town in Quezon province, their raft turned over and two of their passengers were washed away but managed to survive.
All the 28 passengers expressed gratitude to the residents and the local government of Mulanay. PNRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon commended the 10 seafarers and other survivors for their heroism. It was "Tatay" Vicente Bernas who assumed the role of "captain" of their life raft and they picked up passengers along the way.
"One by one they rescued other passengers and they helped each other get through the harrowing experience," Gordon said. He added that the "wounds they (survivors) sustained were caused by their desire to survive. It was man against nature, men against themselves and in the end they conquered themselves in order to survive," he said.
Gordon said that despite the economic difficulty in the area, the residents gave the stranded passengers slippers, clothes and food.
"We took down their contact numbers. Hopefully, when we have returned home and have money we would be able to repay them for helping us," said Garbo.
Author Unknown --- Submitted by Jaezelle Hulleza --- Philippines
This not particularly my story but this really touches my heart a lot. This is a story of a people who were strangers to each other and how they helped each other to survive.