Less than a month after the sinking of the MV Gulf Livestock 1, who in the world mourns Captain Dante Addug and his 38 fellow Filipino crew members, lost when their ship sank off the coast of Japan during Typhoon Maysak?
Their families, certainly. Captain Addug, who was 34, has left behind five children under six years of age. The staff and management of Dubai-based Gulf Navigation Holding, which operated the ship, have also been hit hard by the human cost of the tragedy.
As for the rest of the world, while details have emerged about the two Australians and two New Zealanders who were on board, we know next to nothing of the 39 Filipino sailors who lost their lives alongside them when their ship was overwhelmed on September 2.
Filipinos – calm, capable, rugged sailors – are the backbone of the world’s maritime commerce system. I personally experienced their tough, good-humored, competent brand of seamanship when I was hauled to safety from a wave-lashed life-raft in the Atlantic on to the deck of a cargo ship crewed by Filipinos.
So when I read of the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1, and the loss of almost all its crew in such horrendous circumstances, it was the faces of the Filipino sailors who had saved my life and my three companions’ that I saw, grinning and shouting encouragement as they fought to pull four cold and exhausted Englishmen from the maw of a ferocious storm.
That new computer, iPhone, dinner set, drill, kettle or TV you ordered online may have arrived at your door in an Amazon box dispatched from a depot near you. But the greatest part of its journey – these days, typically from some factory in China – was on board a ship, and frequently in the care of a crew of Filipinos working far from home in a perilous environment.
Few of us who spend our lives on solid ground appreciate just how perilous that environment can be. Although we all benefit from the products of the global economy on a daily basis, we rarely give any thought to how those products reach us.
The world of commercial shipping upon which the global market depends completely is a mystery. The ships that service our consumerism are, at best, little more than smudges on the horizon, indistinct shapes glimpsed occasionally during a day trip to the coast.
Yet more than 90% of world trade is waterborne. As the latest Global Marine Trends report from Lloyd’s Register puts it, “Without ships and navigable seas there is no globalization.”
Most of us neither know nor care much about what it takes to ship the stuff we take for granted. Likewise, the lives and losses of those who labor to keep the great engine of global trade running efficiently are out of sight and out of mind.
Last year 41 large commercial vessels were lost at sea. That’s certainly an improvement on the 130 lost in 2010, but such trends are highly volatile and subject to both economic and natural forces.
A total of 951 ships were lost between 2010 and 2019 – a startling average of 95 every year. Of these, 228 went down off South China, Indochina, Indonesia and the Philippines. Typhoons, combined with the ever-increasing volume of traffic from the Far East, have made this the No 1 danger zone for shipping.
Danger also lurks elsewhere. Since 2010, 49 ships have been lost in or near the Persian Gulf.
Gulf Livestock 1, which was carrying almost 6,000 cattle destined for the Chinese dairy industry, sank near the end of its voyage from Napier in New Zealand to the port of Tangshan, in China’s Hebei province a journey of about 17 days. A distress call was sent, but only two of the crew were found alive.
Chief officer Eduardo Sareno was spotted by a Japanese navy aircraft and rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard. He was found alone in the water wearing a lifejacket, having jumped off the ship as it began to capsize. He told his rescuers that the vessel’s engine had failed in the rough seas and, unable to maneuver, had turned broadside on to the waves and capsized.
A second crew member, found two days later, died shortly after rescue. A third, a 30-year-old deckhand found clinging to a battered, waterlogged life-raft later the same day, survived. An empty, badly damaged lifeboat has also been found, along with the carcasses of dozens of drowned cattle.
At sunset on September 9, one week after the ship went down, the search for survivors was finally called off.
Encouraged by the fact that three life-rafts and a lifeboat have yet to be found, families and supporters have mounted a digital campaign on social media to urge search and rescue efforts to continue. One heartbreaking photograph shows a young girl of about eight holding up a sign that reads: “I am a daughter. Save Captain Dante Addug and his crew members.”
On September 9, the day the search for survivors was called off, Gulf Navigation Holding released a statement saying that everyone in the company was “devastated by the enormity of this tragic accident,” adding that “All our thoughts and prayers at this time go out to the families of those who it seems have lost their loved ones.”
As for the rest of us, the least we can do the next time we take delivery of a parcel whose contents have traveled the world is pause and remember those who are daily in peril on the seas, and who at times give their lives, so we may benefit from the global trade upon which our lifestyles depend.
This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.
Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.