PINOY MARINO RIGHTS: Aurora and the maritime tragedies in the Philippines

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

The film Aurora  won as 2nd best picture, best cinematography, best in visual effects,  best sound, best child performer for Phoebe Villamor in the  2018 Metro Manila Film Festival.

Anne Curtis is cast as Leana, a young woman who owns a small inn beside a gloomy beach. Visible from the shoreline is a passenger ship, named Aurora, that crashed onto sharp rocks weeks ago. Many aboard the ship were killed in this accident, and most of their bodies have not yet been recovered. Leana hopes to recover these bodies, not only for her peace of mind but also because a cash reward is waiting for her for every corpse that she finds ashore. Before long, Leana starts seeing apparitions of the dead around her inn

The film is lifted from the stories of ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.

Two years ago, a Christmas maritime tragedy occurred  involving the sinking of  the M/V Starlite Atlantic last  December 26, 2016  off Tingloy, Batangas at the height of typhoon Nina. 

The M/V Starlite Atlantic had been pushed by strong winds into the shallow waters and ran upon the rocks. Sustaining multiple hull breaches the ro-ro suffered uncontrolled water ingress. Unable to maintain stability, the  M/V  Starlite Atlatnic capsized a short time later.

The M/V starlite Atlantic is a roll-on, roll-off ship (Ro-Ro) built in 1975. The ship, which sank at around 11 in the morning at the height of typhoon Nina had 33 people on board but only 14 were rescued while a lone fatali­ty identified as 21-year-old Lyka Banayal was recorded.

Out of the 18 crewmen remained missing,  11 were student-cadets taking their on-the-job training on-board the ill-fated ship.

18 persons remain missing, namely Susan Lacastales, Mark Manalo, Kenneth Jones Banguiso, Elberto Dela Cruz, Gerald Dennis Sab, Adolfo Manalo, Ronmark Hidal­go, Mark Anthony Gomez, Jaspher Andozo, Ronnyl Gargar, Joeven Cabrera, No­canor Calvez, Mochael Von­cent Vargas, Lester Vincent Quillan, Oscar Torregoza, Gaudencio Forcado and Jas­per Aguilar.

The Christ­mas tragedy is not an isolated incident. It was just a repeat of previous terrible sinkings in the country’s storm tossed seas.

The dead­liest maritime disaster in Philippine history, the sink­ing of the MV Doña Paz on Dec. 20, 1987 near Oriental Mindoro, where more than 4,300 passengers died.

On December 20, 1987, at 6:30 a.m.,  MV Doña Paz left from Tacloban City, Leyte, for the City of Manila, with a stopover at Catbalogan City, Samar. On December 20, 1987, at 10:30 p.m., the passenger vessel collided with a motor tanker, MT Vector, near Dumali Point between the provinces of Marinduque and Oriental Mindoro.

The vessel’s manifest only listed 1,493 passengers and a 53-member crew, but survivor accounts that the vessel was carrying more than 4,000 passengers.  The documented death reached  4,341The incident was the worst peacetime disaster and the worst in the 20th century, and the vessel was even named the Asia’s Titanic.

 In 2008, MV Princess of the Stars capsized off Rom­blon amid the onslaught of Typhoon Frank, with only 48 survivors out of its 862 pas­sengers.

Often,  the government are called upon to ensure that all rules and regulations related to maritime safety should be implemented or enforced.

Unfortunately, the main problem really is that most shipping compa­nies disregard rules on mari­time and passenger safety be­cause they can easily get away with it .

Industry experts  say most of the vessels that serve the coun­try’s maritime routes are re­furbished ships from Japan with an average age of 30 to 40 years. These second hand refurbished vessels are $2-3 million cheaper than a brand new one.

As long as the government will not use its iron hands in policing the shipping companies, the maritime tragedies like M/V Dona Paz and M/V Starlite Atlantic will continue to happen.

The film Aurora will always  be a  reminder of the  agony of those left behind.

(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the  Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan  law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)