Asia’s Titanic - 30 years ago an estimated 4,386 people perished in the worst peacetime maritime disaster Asia’s Titanic - 30 years ago an estimated 4,386 people perished in the worst peacetime maritime disaster

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Asia’s Titanic

Sailors’ Society port chaplains Rev Jasper del Rosario and Rev Nic Tuban lay a wreath for the lost
Sailors’ Society port chaplains Rev Jasper del Rosario and Rev Nic Tuban lay a wreath for the lost

Chaplains from international maritime charity Sailors’ Society marked the 30th anniversary of the worst peacetime maritime disaster with a wreath laying in the Philippines.

Known as Asia’s Titanic, the Doña Paz was making its twice-weekly journey from Leyte island to the Filipino capital Manila, when it collided with the oil tanker MT Vector on 20 December 1987 – just five days before Christmas.

The Vector was transporting thousands of barrels of petroleum and the collision caused its cargo to catch fire, which rapidly spread to the passenger ferry.

Doña Paz could officially hold 1,518 passengers, manned by a 66-strong crew.

However, thousands more people, not listed on the ship’s register, were on board.

An estimated 4,386 perished that night, many of whom burnt alive.

One of only 24 passengers who survived, Paquito Osabel, reportedly said at the time: “I went to a window to see what happened, and I saw the sea in flames.

“I shouted to my companions to get ready, there is fire. The fire spread rapidly and there were flames everywhere.”

Paquito was sailing to Manila with his sister and three nieces.

Like many on board, they were travelling home to spend Christmas with family.

Sailors’ Society’s port chaplain in Manila, Rev Nic Tuban, who laid the wreath with his colleague Rev Jasper del Rosario, remembers the tragedy well.

“People in Manila were excited to celebrate Christmas but instead mourned.

“They waited at the city’s North Harbour, hoping that their loved ones were still alive.

“So many never saw their loved ones again.”

In March this year, families of the lost were given compensation.

Sailors’ Society’s CEO Stuart Rivers said: “Trauma can affect people for many years after a disaster.

“Earlier this year, Sailors’ Society launched a Crisis Response Network in Asia – a team of trained responders who are on-hand to support people traumatised by crisis at sea.”


Crisis response network


If you are a seafarer in need of support, Sailors’ Society’s chaplains are here to help you and your family.

The charity’s port chaplains can offer a wide range of practical and spiritual support, from providing Wi-Fi and transport on arrival in port, to offering counselling and welfare grants.

Sailors’ Society’s Crisis Response Network operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is available to assist seafarers and their families experiencing a crisis incident at home, in port or at sea.