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Sunday, November 22, 2020

The MV Dona Paz Tragedy And The Lolo Amang Mystery

MV Dona Paz tragedy is also called Asia's Titanic. This maritime disaster is one of the most tragic in the last century. On December 20, 1987, at least 4000 lives were claimed by the sea, which turned into a blazing inferno, leaving 25 survivors. Since the airing of the National Geographic Channel's documentary aptly titled Asia's Titanic back on August 25, 2009, people had more knowledge about the tragedy's full scale. The tragedy is regarded as the worst peacetime maritime disaster.
MV Dona Paz, Asia's Titanic, Lolo Amang, Romblon Triangle
Image: National Geographic Channel

Amid the tragedy, there are several theories; some are supernatural ones or paranormal regarding why the collision of two ships became possible in a wide-open sea. Locals believe that Lolo Amang and his golden ship were the culprits of these maritime accidents, and a place considered as the Romblon Triangle is his dominion. 

Before going through the tale of Lolo Amang, it is still important to point out the factual details about the tragedy. Accounts of the survivors made this tragedy more tragic because of their ordeal to survive the world's worst maritime disaster. National Geographic interviewed most of the survivors, and they all pointed out fundamental flaws and mistakes made by the Sulpicio Lines, the operator of MV Dona Paz. Luthgardo Niedo, an officer of the military, recalled how the ship was so overcrowded and people slept in the ship corridors, and it appeared that the vessel is tilted to the right. 

Lutgardo Niedo estimated that at least 1,000 uniformed men, both from the police and military, at least in one battalion, boarded the ship to celebrate Christmas in Metro Manila. They are among the chance passengers who boarded the vessel just before the voyage. The number of passengers in the official manifesto is only 1,493, and this number does not include children below 4 years old.

The documentary reenacted the chaos that unfolded in the crowded ship. Survivors stated the difficulty of moving inside the Dona Paz, that even queuing for the canteen and going to the bathroom is an obstacle. Some of the survivors heard noises of festivity and a Christmas party from the cabin. These accounts became strong evidence of negligence on some of the 60 man crew of M/V Dona Paz; no crew members survived in the accident. The ship's last transmission was recorded around 22:30 DEC 20 1987, when it passed the Tablas Strait.

MV Dona Paz, Asia's Titanic, Lolo Amang, Romblon Triangle
Image: Maritime Post

After the last transmission, tragedy struck. Caltex's MT Vector, a tanker was carrying 1,050,000 liters of diesel products, collided with the ship. The Vector hit the engine room of the MV Dona Paz, and it caused a blackout; seconds later, a fire broke out in the ship. Within seconds it engulfed many parts of MV Dona Paz it caused stampedes. According to one survivor, passengers decided to jump overboard on the sea with their life jackets to save themselves from the fire. But the explosion from MT Vector is what made the situation more lethal and survivability less possible. The explosion of the tanker released millions of liters of kerosene and other diesel products to the sea. It turned the sea into a blazing inferno that did not spare people who decided to jump overboard. One survivor recalled how terrifying and hopeless the situation had become when he heard people writing in pain because of the fire. A deafening silence was heard after he managed to go away from the sea on fire.

The crew of MS Don Claudio saw the huge explosion from a distance and went to the perimeter of the accident when they found several survivors who sustained burns and were led in the ship to be treated. Days after the tragedy remains of those ill-fated passengers scattered over the seas around the Tablas Strait.

Days after the tragedy, groups of people protested at Sulpicio Lines office because of their relatives' deaths. Some of these people did not find the names of their departed relatives on the official manifesto. The tragedy sparked outrage, and a well-documented fact-finding team tried to solve the puzzle of why the two ships collide. Legal counsels of both Sulpicio Lines and the MT Vector operator stated points that may have led to the collision. Authorities found out that the MT Vector operator lacked the official documents for the ship to carry out its operations, and the competency of the MT Vector captain was put into question. The survivors' accounts regarding the party aboard MV Dona Paz might have led to negligence that caused the collision.

MV Dona Paz, Asia's Titanic, Lolo Amang, Romblon Triangle
Image: Lucis Philippines Press

The MV Dona Paz incident is not the first large scale maritime tragedy in the area that involves the collision of two vessels. Just seven years, ago before the MV Dona Paz Tragedy, M/V Don Juan, a luxury liner owned by Negros Navigation, collided with MT Tacloban, an oil tanker. The incident caused 176 deaths.

But some locals have believed that a certain Lolo Amang caused the collisions and other maritime disasters. There are accounts that every time there is a sighting of his Golden ship, a tragedy may happen. He is a figure of local folklore and some believers of his tale point out that his ship was moored at Barangay Cayatong in Looc or Ferrol town in Tablas Island. He is said to travel in the treacherous waters of the Romblon Triangle. The Lolo Amang Mystery and his golden ship should not be made as a scapegoat for the alleged negligence that causes these maritime accidents. Instead, the authorities should learn from these accidents and improve enough so these incidents will never happen.

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