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Crew of Solar 1 recall ‘8/11’

August 13, 2007

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Philippine Coast Guard Western Visayas commander Luis Tuason Jr. and Task force Solar I Oil Spill chair Rafael Coscolluela toss flowers into the sea on board the Coast Guard vessel BRP Edsa II. The vessel visited the area off Guimaras waters where the ill-fated tanker sank last Saturday, August 11, in commemoration of the disaster’s first anniversary. (ECGarcia, TNT)

By Ronilo L. Pamonag
The News Today, Aug. 13, 2007

As government officials held a mass to commemorate the country’s worst oil spill in Guimaras, the crew of the ill-fated oil tanker Solar 1 opted to remember it in a playful and light-hearted way.

It is but sad that two of their crewmates won’t be around for the ‘celebration.’

“We greeted each other a happy first birthday,” crewmember Reynaldo Torio told The News Today of their text messages yesterday, a year after their ship sunk under rough weather in Guimaras, causing the worst environmental disaster.

Torio is one of the 18-man crew of the ill-fated oil tanker owned by Sunshine Maritime Development Corporation and chartered by Petron Corp. to transport 2.1 million liters of bunker fuel to Zamboanga from Limay, Bataan. Within 24 hours from the sinking, the southern coastline of Guimaras, including the beach resorts and mangroves, was coated with up to an inch-thick of oil.

Saturday morning, Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Edsa Dos went to ground zero. On board were government officials who were part of the Solar One Oil Spill Task Force.

Over at Nueva Valencia town in Guimaras, a forum was held. Gov. Felipe Hilan Nava and Rep. JC Rahman Nava await the release of the P900-million rehabilitation fund President Arroyo promised last year.

We still keep in touch with each other, although we’re with different companies now, Torio said.

But their captain, Norberto Aguro is said to be unemployed and staying in Bataan, he said.

“He could not find a job because his license was revoked, and he had a hold departure order,” he said. But most of his crewmates are now employed with other shipping firms. Torio, who now works for a brokerage firm in Ermita, Manila, is looking forward to be hired by a sister company engaged in international shipping.

His former employer, SMDC, on the other hand, has closed down.

“Sunshine no longer exists. Its license has been revoked following the incident. The last time I heard its two remaining ships, the Solar 2 and 3 were in dry-dock and about to be brought by an inter-island shipping company respectively,” Torio said. There is also a pending case with the National Labor Relations Commission for payment of the crew’s benefits.

Torio said that he was at the helm during the eventful day.

“The waves were very big. The weather was very rough,” he recalled.

They sought shelter at the Iloilo strait because of a typhoon in the morning of August 11. In the afternoon, Aguro insisted that they continue with the voyage to Zamboanga despite the rough weather.

“We objected to his decision to continue with the voyage. But he told us to wait until we become ship captains ourselves,” Torio remembered what Aguro told them.

The air vent at the front broke and started to take in water shortly after they resumed the voyage.

Although the ship was already listing heavily, Aguro did not give the order to abandon ship.

“And so we stayed inside the ship until it capsized. We weren’t able to prepare the life boats because there was no order to abandon the ship,” he said. “I’m lucky I was able to get out of the ship.

But that was just the start. They were in the water for about 14 hours. Drenched in oil, the 16 crew members and two cargo surveyors of Petron Corp. were rescued at around 6 am the following day, August 12.

Two of their shipmates-oiler Victor Morados and able-bodied seaman 2 Art Ian Nabua-perished along with the ship. Their bodies have not been recovered until now.

Although it has already been fait accompli, Torio said that the incident would not have happened had not Aguro been too eager to go complete the voyage and go back to Bataan by August 16, just in time for the fiesta of Barangay Lamau in Limay.

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