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Remembering Doña Paz, The Deadliest Shipwreck In History Worse Than The Titanic

In remembrance of its 30th anniversary. May all the victims rest in peace.

Many people think that the sinking of the Titanic is the worst maritime disaster, but there is a disaster worse than the popular shipwreck. The Philippines will be forever haunted by the tragedy of MV Doña Paz that recorded over 4,000 fatalities.

It will be 30 years since MV Doña Paz burned in the Philippine waters. On the unfortunate day of December 20, 1987, five days before Christmas, the passenger ferry collided with oil tanker MT Vector carrying 8,000 barrels of gasoline and kerosene that left an estimated death toll of 4,386 people and only 24 survivors.

MV Doña Paz is overloaded with more than 4,386 people.

MV Doña Paz was heading to Philippine capital, Manila, from the island of Leyte. It has a registered capacity of 1,518 passengers but on that fateful night, the vessel is overcrowded with more people than its normal capacity. According to the families of the victims and few survivors, the ship is jampacked with families going to Manila for the holidays. The official list reflected names a little more than 1,000 but more than 4,000 families rushed to the office of Sulpicio Lines.

Due to overloading, there is no space to stretch oneself. At around 11:30pm of December 20, 1987, the passengers sensed the collision. It caused a fire on the oil tanker that quickly spread to MV Doña Paz and the sea. Many passengers got burned in what people call “hell in sea”. Some people jumped overboard to escape the burning ship but the oil has spread to the sea and caught fire.

The tragedy is the worst maritime tragedy after World War II.

Upon investigation, the two ships have many faults that contributed to the tragedy. First, the alleged overloading made it harder for the passenger ferry to steer and avoid the collision. Aside from being overloaded, it was later found out that the MV Doña Paz has no radio and that the life-jackets were locked away making the tragedy even worse. The absence of radio failed the two ships to communicate with each other. The locked life jackets also lessened the chance for the passengers to survive the sea.

There were also allegations that the ship’s captain is partying that night and an apprentice is manning the wheel. Sulpicio Lines denied all allegations and claimed that they abide by the rules set by the Philippine Coast Guard before the voyage.

The tragedy happened days before Christmas.

The investigators found that the Vector’s operator and owner, Francisco Soriano and Vector Shipping Corp, had no license to operate the vessel, it was unseaworthy and that the crew was unqualified to run the tanker. It is traversing the sea illegally. The captain of MT Vector admitted that the steering wheel of the oil tanker is defective and difficult to maneuver.

For days, rescuers combed the sea littered with bloated corpses of the passengers. Many bodies were not found and their families mourned without a body.

This is not the first time that the vessel suffered a tragedy. When it was bought by Sulpicio Lines, it was named Don Sulpicio. On June 5, 1979, the vessel caught fire while on its way to Manila from Cebu with no fatality. The ship was refurbished by Sulpicio Lines and returned as Doña Paz.

Relatives of the victims and missing people plagued Sulpicio Lines.

Up to this day, survivors and families of the victims are still reminded of the grief-stricken tragedy. The trauma brought by the incident is not easy to forget. The few survivors have burns to forever remember the tragic shipwreck.

Families of the victims received $4,000 compensation, but many families of those not listed in the masterlist did not receive a single penny from Sulpicio Lines.

Watch the documentary of the worst peacetime maritime disaster.

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