Able seamen Ricky Lumio was one of six crew working down number 2
hold on the Pamananian flag of convenience Halo Cygnus on the afternoon
of March 8 when the second ship hit: "I heard a big crash and water
cascaded in, then I looked starboard and saw the bow of a ship come
through the hold. I ran for my life. We were all shouting. I got to the
ladder and climbed up with the water wrapping itself around me, chasing
me all the way up. I was soaked through."
The two bulk carriers, Halo Cygnus and the Las Sierras, both
flying the Panama flag of convenience, were on route to Australia, 600
nautical miles southwest of Guam when the collision took place.
It was a fine still day in the tropics just north of the equator.
US Coast Guard, Guam reports the seas were flat.
Visibility was excellent.
According to crew reports the second mate and radio operator
were on watch on the deck of the Halo Cygnus
shortly before the collision.
The Las Sierras was just a dot on the horizon.
The second mate later told the surviving crew
that he got a call to change course
and went to the bridge.
The ship had been heading for the northeast coast of Australia.
It was redirected to the west coast.
The radio operator had seen the Las Sierras
in the distance by telescope.
He then went back to his radio portside.
Minutes later the giant bow of the Las Sierras hit starboard,
smashing through the side of their ship.
Six of Ricky's workmates were trapped down the flooded hold,
two of them tangled in ropes they were
using to winch themselves up the side they were cleaning.
The impact of the water spun the ropes around them like a web,
dismembering one man's hand.
It was a terrifying two hours after impact
before the call came to abandon ship.
All surviving crew were moved on board the Las Sieras.
But within 48 hours ship management ordered them back
on the sinking bulk carrier to pump out ballast water
and keep the now badly listing Halo Cygnus afloat.
Chief engineer Godofredo Hermoso was first back on board.
"We worked each day, staying on the rescue boat at night.
It took six days before divers from Guam reached the vessel
and retrieved the bodies.
All this time we worked the ship
while our dead crew mates decomposed down the hold.
The smell was terrible.
All we could do was tie handkerchiefs around our noses.
Each day I worked I had the same strange experience.
Around 3 or 4 each afternoon, around the time of the accident,
I heard voices calling for help.
I could not understand what they were saying.
Their words were drowned out. I just heard their screams.
They were my friends and workmates.
The evening before the collision we had a karoki party in the TV room.
We were all singing.
All but one of the dead had wives and young children.
The eldest was only 38 years of age.
The youngest was only 22.
By the time they recovered the bodies
their faces were so decomposed
they had to get my friend Ricky
to identify each of the dead by their clothing.
The corpses were then put on the tug with the
surviving crew and transported back to Guam
Only for intervention from the International Transport Workers'
Federation, Godofredo may have had no choice.
The ITF voiced concern for the welfare of the survivors
and alerted its Philippines office which contacted crew.
An inquiry into the ship collision will now be left to Panama
were both ships were registered
so as to avoid scrutiny of safety and crew conditions in the first place.
"It will be a whitewash," said ITF Australia Co-ordinator Trevor Charles.
"These ships get away with murder. "
Only this February the ITF head office in London released a
damning report on the state of the Pamananian FOC registry.
The report brands Panama 'Number One' deficient flag state in the world. It
catalogues an "appalling record of maritime casualties, port state
control detentions, ships abandoned and seafarers cheated out of their
wages, among other serious deficiencies."
The ITF estimates that Panama earns around US$20 million a year
for selling its flag, but takes none of its responsibilities as a flag
state seriously. With its open registry Panama supports a system which
exploits seafarers and undermines the shipping industry," said ITF
Assistant General Secretary