18 Pinoy seafarers return home after escaping attack in Nigeria

- Reinir Padua and Rudy Santos () - January 7, 2008 - 12:00am

Eighteen Filipino seamen, who were among the crewmembers of a vessel set on fire by militants in Nigeria last month, arrived in the country over the weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

Another seafarer, Vito C. Cruz died during the attack and Vice President Noli de Castro gave assurance that the government is doing everything to hasten the repatriation of his remains.

According to the Office of the Vice President, they are hoping to bring home the remains of Cruz, 57, this week.

However, a check done by the OVP last Friday revealed that there was still no police report on the incident.

This report is needed to conduct an autopsy of Cruz’s body before it is sent home to the Philippines.

Aside from this, the government is also considering the security situation in Nigeria.

DFA spokesman Claro Cristobal said six seamen arrived at 10:30 p.m. last Saturday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport via flight EK 334 while another batch of 12 seafarers arrived 9:45 a.m. yesterday via KL 803.

The repatriated seamen were identified as Nestor Barba, Tomas Sapial, Pancho Lagutan, Richard Peniano, Manuel Tapang, Cesar Guadalupe, Edgar Ballesteros, Melchor Malana, Elmer Temblor, Simeon Avilla, William Prosia, James Panaguiton, Jozane Ponce, Ronald Padasas, Alfonso Zarate, Frankie Viacrucis, Nino Luengas and Alvin Jovellano.

The Filipino crewmen were onboard oil tanker M/T Keno when the vessel was attacked by militants in River State, Nigeria last Dec. 19.

A jetty fire caused the vessel’s oil tank to explode, prompting the 19 seamen to jump ship.

Zarate and Viacrucis said they were waiting as some 50,000 cubic meters of oil were being loaded onto the ship when they heard the explosion at around 2 a.m. The men roused their colleagues, including Sapial, from sleep.

Sapial then ordered his men to abandon ship.

“We saw how our fellow seaman Vito Cruz was caught by the fire. Tumalon siya mula sa tanker at dahil may edad na siya, mahina lumangoy palayo sa tanker namin at inabot siya ng apoy (Cruz jumped off the tanker but because of his age, he couldn’t swim fast enough away from it and he was caught by the fire),” Malana recalled.

Cruz’s body was later found floating off Nigerian waters with burns on his body.

“Halos malagutan na kami ng hininga dahil 200 meters ang layo ng nilangoy namin mula sa terminal hanggang sa shore. Talagang nilakasan na lamang namin ang loob namin (We nearly drowned swimming 200 meters from the terminal to the shore. We had to brave the waters),” Malana said.

After reaching the shore of Port Harcourt, Malana said some fishermen helped them reach a nearby Army detachment and were later brought to the Presidential Hotel on Dec. 20.

But on New Year’s Eve while resting at the hotel, militants began throwing improvised bombs at the establishment.

“Kanya-kanya kaming tago hanggang sa dumating yung Army (It was every man for himself until the Army arrived),” Malana said.

“We stayed for two days at the hotel before we went to the airport. That was Jan. 3 when DFA personnel gave us our temporary travel documents to able us to fly back to Manila.”

The Philippine Embassy in Abuja sent a consular team to Port Harcourt last Dec. 26 to arrange for the repatriation of the fatality and the 18 surviving crewmembers to Lagos who were all thankful of making it out alive.

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