‘Aurora’ and the maritime tragedies in PH

THE FILM “Aurora” won second best picture, best cinematography, best in visual effects, best sound, and 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 and with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.

Two years ago, a Christmas maritime tragedy occurred – the sinking of M/V Starlite Atlantic on Dec. 26, 2016 off Tingloy, Batangas at the height of typhoon “Nina.”

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, M/V Starlite Atlantic capsized.

M/V Starlite Atlantic is a roll-on, roll-off ship (ro-ro) built in 1975. The ship, which sank around 11 a.m. 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.

Eighteen 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, Nicanor Calvez, Michael Vincent 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 was the sinking of M/V Doña Paz on Dec. 20, 1987 near Oriental Mindoro; more than 4,300 passengers died.

On Dec. 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.

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 from survivor accounts it appeared that the vessel was carrying more than 4,000 passengers.

The documented death reached 4,341.

The incident was the worst peacetime maritime disaster and the worst in the 20th century, and the vessel was even named “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 is 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-million to $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 MV Doña Paz and MV Starlite Atlantic will continue to happen.

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


Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786./PN


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