Some of the survivors of the M/Y Dream Keeper arriving at the port of Puerto Princesa on the afternoon of May 1 as seen from a distance. The photograph inset shows the yacht that sank in Tubbataha early on April 30.

The four missing passengers of M/Y Dream Keeper may have been trapped inside the yacht that sank off Tubbataha Reefs after being caught in a heavy squall early Sunday morning.

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) District Palawan commander Captain Dennis Rem Labay said this scenario remains likely, as the search and rescue operations continued.

One Chinese male, one female dive master, and two guests (one male and one female) are among the four missing.

“Maraming possibility–na-trap [inside the yacht] nalunod or anything, hindi namin masabi (There are many possibilities – trapped inside the yacht, drowned, or anything else. We cannot say for sure),” Labay said.

In the picture, rescued passengers of M/Y Dream Keeper disembark from M/Y Discovery Palawan to transfer to the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Melchora Aquino, which transported them to Puerto Princesa City on May 1. | Photo from PCG District Palawan

He also said that based on the accounts of the ship captain, the yacht was hit by a squall at around 3 am that caught them by surprise as most of the passengers were sleeping.

“I think 3 a.m. so they were caught off guard talaga kasi natutulog, may naka-duty lang, good thing na nagising nila yung ibang crew (I think it’s 3 a.m. so they were caught off guard because they were sleeping, only a few were on duty. It’s a good thing that the other crew members woke up),” he said.

“Nung nagising nila yung mga crew kasi nagli-list (tumagilid) na yung barko on one side kasi napaka-violent daw talaga ng hangin, buti na lang na-contact nila yung nearest na dive boat, which is the M/Y Discovery Palawan ang nag-responde naman agad at nai-transfer nila yung survivors but very unfortunate na yung apat hanggang ngayon ay missing (When the crew woke up, they discovered that the ship was tilting to one side because of the strong and violent wind. Fortunately, they were able to contact the nearest dive boat, which was the M/Y Discovery Palawan. The dive boat quickly responded and helped transfer the survivors to safety. However, it is very unfortunate that four people are still missing up to this day),” he added.

The 28 passengers and crew of the yacht who survived the incident was rescued by another dive yacht–M/Y Discovery Palawan, which was nearest when the incident happened.

They were later transferred to PCG vessel BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV 9702) and was ferried to the city.

Labay further explained that the only search they can do for now is surface search, while tracking the possible location where the yacht might have drifted.

The yacht sank at around 4 nautical miles from the eastern side of the north islet of the park and with a depth of around 1,000-1,500 meters.

“Ang ginagawa is surface search doon sa area, tina-track yung possible location kung saan napadpad, back and forth chini-chek. Later na ida-dive kasi pag alam na natin yung possible location pero yung 1,500 meters, hindi na capable ang tao mag-dive (What they are doing is conducting a surface search in the area and tracking the possible location where the missing individuals may have drifted. They are checking the area back and forth. They will dive later once they have identified the possible location. However, the area is 1,500 meters deep, which makes it impossible for people to dive),” he explained.

“Ang best na gagawin is we will hire a salvor to conduct salvage operation. I think friend ng owner yung nakausap ko kanina, they are interested into speaking a salvor, we might look for one and meet with them to plan how to search for the boat and possibly the four missing (The best thing to do is to hire a salvor to conduct a salvage operation. Earlier, I spoke to someone who is a friend of the owner and they expressed interest in speaking with a salvor. We may need to search for and meet with a salvor to plan how to search for the boat and possibly find the four missing individuals),” he added.

No oil spill
Meanwhile, Labay discounted the possibility of oil spill in the area noting that what the yacht is carrying is automotive diesel.

He said unlike what happened in Mindoro where the tanker that sank is carrying is bunker oil, diesel easily dissipates.

“In the early hours after the boat sank, merong nakitang oil pero ano yun, automotive diesel so very negligible ang effect nun. Siguro ang karga ng barko around 300-400 liters. Pag lumabas yun, in a few hours na [ma-expose sa] init yun wala na, mag-dissipate na yun (In the early hours after the boat sank, some oil was seen but it was automotive diesel, so its effect was very negligible. Perhaps the ship was carrying around 300-400 liters. Once it surfaces and is exposed to the heat, it will dissipate in a few hours),” he explained.