Monday, April 21, 2014

Sinking Vessel

When I read the news on the recent sinking of a Korean ferry boat, it inevitably jostled my memory back to Royal Pacific which sank on 23 August 1992 near Port Dickson and I was one of the survivors too.  Sadly, there are some similarities between the two ill-fated vessels.  It happened more than two decades ago but nobody seems to have remembered that fateful incident now.

I was the operations manager of Starlight Cruises which was the owner and ship manager of Royal Pacific, a 13,000 gross tonnage passenger vessel which can carry up to 600 passengers.  It was a Greek-owned vessel and flying on Bahamas flag.  It was a ferry which was just converted to a full passenger vessel slated to ply in the Straits of Malacca and home-ported in Singapore.  Cruising was at its infancy stage in the late 80s going into the early 90s in Singapore and the region.  

It was our maiden voyage where we were supposed to do a 2-night "cruise-to-nowhere" along Straits of Malacca and many travel agents were on a familiarisation cruise with us.  There were 535 passengers and crew on board.  It was on our second night while on the way back to Singapore that a Taiwanese fishing trawler hit us on the port side.  It was in the wee hour at about 0200 hrs when it happened.

The ship started to list on one side.  As it was a "ferry-convert-passenger vessel", water quickly gushed in to fill up vacant space within the vessel.  The automatic shutting doors that were supposed to shut out water from flowing into other compartments failed to work and that, unfortunately quickened the sinking.

There was only one announcement made by the Captain.  It was not an announcement to evacuate but to summon for the Chief Safety Officer made in Greek language and nobody could have thought the ship would sink.  I did not think so either, certainly not in my wildest dream.  However, many did don their life jackets when they realised the ship was listing badly and was waiting at the lobby area for further instructions from the bridge but alas, it never came.  I understand later that the announcement system also went kaput when the call for evacuation was to be made.  Once the ship was listed badly on one side, there was no way one can still remain in the cabin.  Many managed to rush out from their cabins and were quickly ushered to the evacuation stations where lifeboats were ready to be released.  Without doubt, there was confusion too.  Some crew members were not even trained for emergency evacuation and obviously, they were more panicky than passengers.  The captain was among the first to be rescued.  Just like his Korean counterpart, he was a relief captain too.

From the time the ship was hit to the time it sank near Port Dickson, it took just under two hours.  With 535 passengers and crew onboard, it was a miracle that only three bodies were found and six are still missing to this day.  In the midst of uncertainty and confusion, how did that incident measure up to the recent Korean ferry?    

When the captain of the fateful Korean ferry was interviewed recently, he said that he delayed the decision to evacuate citing among others, rescue vessels had not arrived yet and weather was bad.  It was definitely a bad call.  For that bad decision, more than 300 innocent lives perished.  I truly believe more lives could have been saved had the call to evacuate was made sooner.  My heart goes out to the families of the victims and I hope they will recover from their griefs soon.


Anonymous said...


I remembered that night - that fateful cruise to nowhere in a newly commissioned cruise boat manned by untrained staff. Crew members that did not know how to swim....resulting in
passengers and crew fighting for life jackets!

If I remember correctly, the Captain broke his leg and was about the last one to leave the ship...the strange sound as water poured into the funnel when the boat finally sank.

There were 5-6 people that got sucked into the funnel but was later pushed out in a giant air bubble. There was an Indian or Pakistani family of 6 to 7 people all holding hands surrounding their mother and floating off the deck as the water level rose.

It was all very confusing and chaotic. We were among the lucky ones that managed to launch the life boats.

One unfortunate group got stuck and thrown into the water when one side gave way as it was lowered.

Anyway we paddled around trying to save as many people as we could find. We paddled towards a tanker about 150 m away, but they could not help us as their landing gear/ropes were too high up.

Imagine our terror when the strong waves swept us towards the rear of the tanker where we were about 10-15 m away from the propeller! In the nick of time, the dead motor spluttered into life and we were able to steer away far from the propeller.

I never got the name of that chubby lady who took charge of food rations on the oil tanker where most of the passengers were eventually transferred to. She did a great job in distributing limited food (bread and milk) and whatever she could get. Fresh bread never tasted so good!

My name was the first on the passenger manifest faxed back to World Trade Center, followed by my sister and her 2 kids. My brother-in-law collapsed in relief....Now the kids are grown up and have families of their own. One of them is in the picture. They don't remember the incident clearly anymore. Only a life buoy remains to remind of me of this traffic event.

Ever since this incident I have never gone on another board cruise ..It is a blessing in disguise, for it led to more stringent regulations for the cruise industry in Singapore.

Collin Ng said...

Thanks for,the contribution. The person injured was not the captain. I believe you are referring to one of the senior officers. Captain was not a bit injured.

Anonymous said...

Hi there, many may not remember the incident of the Royal Pacific anymore. But for me, and for my relatives, this will always remaining buried in our hearts. Burning questions that, to date, have all been mostly left unanswered. What is the truth behind this exactly? And what are the exact details about the behaviours of the crew and captain remains ambiguous amongst the many articles i have googled on the Internet.

But first, let me thank you for posting this as i may have found at least one person to have my questions answered. You may be wondering why i am leaving this comment on your blogpost. Let me introduce myself to you. I am the daughter of an accountant and production controller who were both on board this cruise to nowhere. An irony indeed, because it really led my parents to nowhere. They are both among the 6 missing people on this cruise, this cruise that i was supposed to be on. Yet, somehow my passport was left at home and thus, they had to leave me behind in Singapore as they discovered it only before boarding.

I was born on 29 August 1990. They were married for only about slightly more than a year when they had me. This incident happened just five days before my 2nd birthday. I was too young to recall anything. I cannot recall that fateful day i was supposed to go on this cruise with them. I cannot recall my 2nd birthday, how it was celebrated when my relatives was grieving. More so with my younger uncle grieving the loss of his sister on his birthday, 23rd August. I cannot recall how they were like as my parents. I cannot recall their faces apart from the 3-4 photos i have of them. I cannot recall their voices, their warmth, their smiles. I have no recollections of them. Basically, i had to be legally called an orphan.

I grew up in a wonderful environment, with my mom's eldest sister taking care of me like i was her own. I was blessed with their care and love. But strangely, i could never shake off the thoughts of how it will feel to be loved and cared for by your own biological parents. For if someone could love you this much, imagine just how loved you can be by your own biological parents.

Anonymous said...

Nobody could ever answer me what truly happened that night. They could only give me vague answers as to why they did not make it out alive when they were just 31 and 34 years old respectively. They could only tell me they never gambled and had a habit of sleeping early. That, that could be the reason why they did not manage to escape.

But i would like to ask, and have always been wanting to ask someone who was there on board that night, what happened exactly? How is it that the crews could escape yet there could be missing or dead passengers? Were they not worth saving? Were they not trained? If they were not trained or equipped with the knowledge, how could they have been on board? How could it be that some passengers may not have been informed about this horrible accident so they can escape.
Is it true that the captain and crews ditched the passengers and ran for their lives to save themselves?
Is it true that this accident could have been avoided had safety precautions been done proper?
How could a fish trawler cause the sinking of such a massive cruise this huge?
Was the fish trawler captain/crew ever questioned about their negligence or their roles in this accident?
Their survivals may be paramount, but were the lives of others worthless and not precious enough to them?
Filing law suits did not help. Insurance companies did not help. It is as if it was meant to be. At least that was what i grew up believing. At least that was how i was taught to believe in growing up.

I believe God made it destined to be this way. For they only had the cruise tickets as a reward by one of my parents' superior who could not go on the cruise with his family due to a last minute business trip that required him to go. As a reward for one of my parents' promotion, he told them to go with their family instead since he could not go and the tickets will not go to waste.

Anonymous said...

I will always remember how they told me as a child that it was the first time my grandfather shed tears. The only one time anyone has ever seen him cried in this lifetime. He has since passed on. Yet, nobody has seen him cry apart from that night. I will remember how my youngest uncle cried and had to host his wedding in a grim manner while dealing with his sister's death within a few months gap. And how his wedding has been a painful memory, how his birthday has since been a knife in his heart to have to deal with it being the death anniversary of my parents. I will remember how my current dad stood at the jetty waiting, and waiting. Watching even elderly survivors holding walking sticks coming back from the dead, with my parents missing from his life ever since.
I have too many questions at the back of my head and i do not know how to list them out. But i would hope and wish that you could provide more details of this accident apart from what was blogged in this post so that i may have a proper closure for once after almost 24 years.

I would be thankful for you.
You may not be the right person to ask questions from, but you are the closest chance and hope i can get to have some of them answered.

Collin Ng said...

Hi, I remember your case, you were very very young then. I know one of your aunts. She used to work in the hotel industry. Are you able to email to me? My email is