(Photo from Coast Guard District Southern Tagalog via Facebook.)

A roll-on roll-off passenger vessel, MV Maria Helena, operated by Montenegro Shipping, ran aground approximately 100 meters off the nearest shoreline of Barangay Nasunugan in Banton, Romblon, in the early hours of July 16.

The Coast Guard District Southern Tagalog (CGDST) reported that all 93 passengers and 36 crew members aboard the vessel were rescued and brought to safety.

The incident occurred during the vessel’s voyage from Lucena Port in Lucena City, Quezon province, to San Agustin Port in Tablas, Romblon.

Christian Vergara, a resident of Brgy. Bagacay in Romblon, Romblon, alerted the authorities, expressing concern for his cousin and friend who were passengers on board MV Maria Helena and were in distress.

The Coast Guard Station (CGS) in Romblon immediately coordinated with rescue teams in San Agustin, Banton, Command Outpost Corcuera, and personnel from the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office-Banton to initiate rescue operations.

At around 2:12 a.m., the Coast Guard received a report from the supervisor of Montenegro, confirming that the vessel, which had 16 rolling cargoes, including motorcycles, had already run aground.

By 3:06 a.m., CGS Romblon was informed that the vessel was utilizing lifeboats to disembark the passengers. Local passenger boats and Coast Guard personnel from CGSS Banton promptly assisted in safely transferring all the passengers to a covered court in Barangay Nasunugan.

Captain Elmo Sumocol, the skipper of MV Maria Helena, explained that the vessel had listed 10 degrees to the portside due to an imbalance of cargoes and seawater inside the vessel’s drainage. The imbalance was caused by the explosion of a tire belonging to one of the rolling cargoes, which subsequently broke its lashing.

Sumocol emphasized that the sea conditions were calm, and there were no visible signs of hull cracks or holes on the vessel. As a precautionary measure, the quartermaster and captain remained on board to assess and monitor the vessel’s status.

Of concern is the presence of approximately 21,000 liters of marine diesel oil (MDO) remaining onboard the grounded vessel. The Coast Guard’s Marine Environmental Protection Group in Romblon has been put on standby to respond to any potential oil spill.

The Coast Guard District Southern Tagalog will conduct a thorough investigation into the incident to determine the exact cause of the grounding. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to evaluate the extent of the damage and develop a plan for the safe retrieval of MV Maria Helena.

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