Thursday, July 07, 2011

We stop at what's left of The Nam Yang 8

Friday dawned with no air in our tanks. Five dives between the two of us had used them all up. The only place we could find online that had a dive tank compressor anywhere near driving distance from Claveria was back up the Maharlika Highway to Pagudpud at the Terra Rika dive beach resort.

The four of us looked forward to the drive. The road is winding and steep at times, but the part that follows the coast is picturesque. Admittedly, riding shotgun, I have the best view. Poor Don sees little of the good stuff along the way; he has to concentrate on the road.

More than half way up the shoreline to Pagudpud where the road seems to wind around the cliff face perched way up on stilts; Don likes to point out what’s left of a derelict cargo ship. Three days before, on our way to Claveria we had barely slowed down for a quick glance. This time I asked if we couldn’t have a few minutes to really give it a look over.

All Don could tell me about the wreck are the few things he’s heard. He said it was a North Korean cargo vessel that foundered in a storm and had to be abandoned. Also there is some sort of controversy about what it was carrying, that it might have been illegal. He wasn’t sure, but he thought maybe the crew had been detained and even after a year they may still be in that situation.

He was stunned at the present condition of the ship. He had first seen it just over a year ago only a few weeks after it had been abandoned. Back then, on his motorcycle, snapping around the bends of that section of coastal highway, suddenly there was this huge ship in seemingly perfect condition parked almost right on the shore.

This is what the Nam Yang 8 looked like the first time Don spotted it more than a year ago:

Looking at the photos we took just one month ago, it certainly doesn’t look that way anymore. As of the first week of June, when we stopped to take these photos, it was nothing but a rusted out, mostly dismantled hulk.

I did a little online research and found several dated news items going back to early January 2010. The articles state the ship had listed over so badly that the captain ordered it abandoned. Actually, it was on New Year’s Day of that year. Fortunately, all 22 crewmembers were able to egress on a large lifeboat in very heavy seas with only one minor injury.

Here's a pic I found online of the ship while it was still tilted way over on its side in high seas:

They were carrying a load of black sand magnetite, a low grade iron ore, picked up at the Cagayan port of Aparri. It was that heavy load that ultimately led to the end of the ship. The big waves that night caused the tons of sand to shift to one side of the cargo hold. The resulting list was so drastic that the ship’s engines failed. With no power and the ship almost on its side, the crew was forced to make a getaway in case it capsized.

Several blog posts have a lot to say about the incident. From these blogs and news articles (see the links below) I learned why the magnetite sand on board as cargo was so controversial. It seems that mining it is now supposed to be outlawed due to environmental damage.

The problem with mining the sand is that once it has been removed, the protection it once afforded is also gone. The thick banks of black sand that can be seen for miles along the northern coast of Cagayan Province act as a protective berm against the sea during high tides and storms. With the sand gone there is nothing to prevent the sea from rushing inland during storms and high tides. This deluge of seawater of course spoils the immersed cropland.

It wasn't until I read of this black sand that I at last learned why the beaches are so darkened up there. I had thought that the blackened sand was the result of sediments released into the sea by the myriad rivers and streams flowing from the land. But no, the sand gets its black color from all the iron ore in it.

Also in my internet research of the Nam Yang 8, I noticed that some big questions were raised last year by the news of the loss of this Korean ship off the shores of Cagayan and Ilocos Norte. Like, what was almost 3000 metric tons of magnetite, a substance no longer allowed to be mined, doing aboard the ship? It was there, so was it illegally acquired by the crew? Were there permits for the North Koreans to carry the ore? If so, did local government officials sign the release papers? If they did sign off on the release of the ore, what was the pretense?

The articles I read all claim that the crew was innocent of any wrongdoing. The permits had indeed been signed and were on the up and up. The local government’s answer is that the sand had been removed for purposes of research and needed to be disposed of anyway, and so it was released for shipment to China.

The ship had been abandoned originally just off the coast from Claveria, the town where they landed in their lifeboat. It seems they stayed in Claveria for several weeks under police protection as guests of the local barangay government. An argument over which institution should have custody of the crew was ongoing, perhaps because there was a promise of eventual compensation by the ship’s owning company.

Evidently, the Koreans had a grand old time during their stay in a hotel in Claveria, and why not, it’s a pretty nice place to be a tourist. Eventually though, they were sent on to Laoag; then, according to one blog entry, they stayed some place in Manila for at least 40 days before finally ending up at the Stella Maris Center, a seaman’s home administered by a Catholic agency.

According to what I see online, that home is way down in Iligan City, a town down on Mindanao not too far from Cagayan de Oro. I find it curious that the Koreans would be transported all the way down there. It seems like it would have made more sense to continue to house them someplace in Manila.

I found a charming blog article posted by Sr. Marivic P. Ching who is a staff member at The Apostleship of the Sea. He describes how delightful the experience he and the other staff had while housing and caring for the needs of the 22 detained crew members. According to him “On February 12, 2010 at 09:30 the 22 members of the crew arrived at the Stella Maris Center, a home supervised by the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).”

The 22 men stayed at the center for more than a month. Ching goes on to write: “Finally, on March 19 (Friday) 2010, they were brought to the Manila International Airport by the AOS staff and Mr. Aguinaldo (ITF). They took a flight to China first and then to North Korea.”

There was one other short-lived uproar in the first few days after the crew was detained. The news was that a combined team of Coast Guard, Immigration and law enforcement did a search of the ship and reportedly found stashes of shabu and marijuana. Nothing ever came of it though. Supposedly it was a case of mistaken identity; the items found were actually food stuffs, or so it was reported.

It’s been more than a month since we stopped along the side of road to look down upon the remains of the M/V Nam Yang 8. Not much of it was left then and I’m certain by now that most of what was left is already cut up and removed as well.

I was curious to see how the salvage and reclamation was being carried out. Far below us we saw several bare-chested men clad only in shorts clambering about on the ruins. About 100 feet down, on the beach, were several acetylene tanks and a lot of unused oil containment boom material.

We pulled up behind a beat up old truck partly filled with small pieces of scrap steel cut from the derelict ship. On the well-worn truck is an equally well-worn winch with a big hook at the end of its winch cable, which is obviously what they were using to pull up the cut pieces of scrap from way down below.

It was hot, about noon time, when I approached the truck. Only one of the three workers sleeping under it roused as we came up to them. I posed a few questions to him about the operation before thanking him for his time and finally asking, “How about a photo?” He was more than happy to mug for the camera, but the other fellows barely stirred. At that time of the day, I don’t blame them a bit.

We loaded back up in the car and continued west toward Pagudpud, hoping we could get our tanks filled so we could still get a dive in back at the Claveria Lagoon before the day ended.

More on our mission to refill our tanks in the next post. . .

List of online sites on the Nam Yang 8:

1. Ship carrying magnetite stokes fears on Cagayan mining By Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon

9. Photo 2 of Nam Yang 8 by Hondacb

11. Seafarers' center directory, Marivic Ching, also Stella Maris Center


Ed said...

That is a pretty interesting story. At least they are salvaging it instead of letting it be an eyesore for the next four hundred years.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Ship wrecks are cool. Too bad it didn't just sink out in the depths though; it would have made a good place for fish to hide. The fishermen up there are like locusts. They catch everything and leave nothing behind