Survivors of the M/Y Dream Keeper exit from the BRP Melchora Aquino on May 1 after arriving from Tubbataha, where the diving boat sank. | Photo from PCG

Authorities and volunteers have stepped up the search for the missing dive yacht M/Y Dream Keeper that sank off Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on Sunday, April 30. Four persons have remained missing and 28 had been rescued.

The search entered its third day today, with a composite team made up of representatives from several government agencies and private organizations.

BRP Carlos Albert of the Philippine Navy (PN) that was deployed by Western Command (WESCOM) on Sunday is still in the area together with other dive boats participating in the search.

Capt. Dennis Rem Labay, district commander of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in Palawan, said another vessel is also on the way to assist while BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV 9702) is still on standby in Puerto Princesa.

“One thing for sure is itong barko na MRRV 9702 or we have another ship, yung BRP Malabrigo na papunta na rin doon sa Tubbataha (One thing for sure is this ship MRRV 9702, or we have another ship, the BRP Malabrigo that is also on its way to Tubbataha),” he said.

Capt. Antonio Santillanosa, skipper of the BRP Melchora Aquino, also stated that they are simply waiting for the go signal from the district to sail back to Tubbataha.

The sinking of M/Y Dream Keeper
M/Y Dream Keeper was anchored off the Tubbataha Reefs on Sunday night when it was caught in the middle of a heavy squall that caused it to submerge.

Before sinking, the dive boat’s crew managed to call for help, alerting another dive boat, M/Y Discovery Palawan, to come to its rescue.

Aboard the ill-fated yacht were 32 crew members and passengers. Twenty eight of the passengers were rescued but four still remained missing.

BRP Melchora Aquino, the first PCG vessel to arrive at the scene, took custody of the 28 survivors, and brought them to Puerto Princesa City.

The survivors were earlier rescued by M/Y Discovery Palawan, the dive boat nearest M/Y Dream Keeper when it sank.

Santillanosa also said that after taking custody of the 28 survivors, they also joined the SAR operations before heading to the city.

He said they were able to recover a life raft that automatically deployed from M/Y Dream Keeper when it sank.

‘Umikot kami, around 30 hours din before kami dumiretso dito (We circled around for about 30 hours before we headed here),” Santillanosa said.

“Pumunta kami doon sa last known position ng yate and from that point, nakuha namin (within) 4.7 nautical miles itong life raft, however, hindi ito nasakyan ng victims siguro kasi nga nag-listing na nga yung yate, nag-panic na yung iba (We went to the last known position of the yacht and from that point, we were able to retrieve this life raft within 4.7 nautical miles, but the victims may not have been able to board it maybe because the yacht was already listing, causing some to panic),” he added.

At the Puerto Princesa port, some of the survivors were met by relatives. They were transferred directly to a hotel where they were assisted by personnel from the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) and the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO).

TRNP park superintendent Angelique Songco is supervising the search and rescue operation on site. She had previously arrived at the marine park to oversee the installation and testing of a new communication equipment for the facility.

“Oceanographer, Dr. Cesar Villanoy, a member of the Fellowship of the Reefs, Tubbataha scientific advisory body, lent us a Starlink unit to test its usefulness here. And it was tested in the worst possible circumstances. He also came up with a mode of wind and current patterns in the coming days,” Songco narrated in her Mama Ranger Diaries, posted on the TRNP official Facebook page, Monday.

“M/Y Dream Keeper vanished under the cover of night, sucked up by the sea in the wake of a fierce squall. Soon after the disaster, all the dive boats in Tubbataha gathered to help, including the Western Command (WESCOM), the Naval Forces West (NFW), and the PCG, much like how blood cells congregate and coagulate to stop more blood loss,” she said.

Meanwhile, dive tours at the TRNP has continued while the search for the missing boat and its remaining passengers are underway.