At the beginning of July this year I received a phone call from the Philippine Coast Guard in Manila asking if I had an Under Water Camera that they could borrow so that they could take pictures of the grounded ship! I told them that mine was dead but gave them the name of a friend of mine who had the required equipment, for rent, not borrow! I never gave this problem another thought until I received word that a Coastal Tanker had run itself aground on Bakud Reef just 7 km off shore from Kiamba Town in Sarangani Province! I knew this reef very well as I had had many dives on it over the years! We decided to go and see what was happening but before we could get there, the ship had been pulled free and it was said to have been towed away by 2 Tug Boats to Davao City for inspection and repair!
On the 15th July we decided to go and see what damage the reef top had sustained but we knew what ever it was it would not be too bad as the reef top had been damaged before by stupid people fishing with explosives and using poisons in order to catch fish! Now the reef was in recovery mode but because of strong currents, the corals take a long time to establish themselves in the shallow waters on the top of the reef! We rented a local fishing boat from Kiamba and took the short journey out to the reef, the weather was good so it was no problem! Once on the reef, we asked some local fishermen who were fishing sensibly using hook and line where the ship had got stuck and they pointed us to the exact spot where this incident took place!
Once we dropped into the water, the visibility was good and we could see the damage to the top of the reef! There was a groove or channel some 100 meters long, about 40 meters wide at the widest point and it was 10 meters deep at the deepest point from sea level! The top of the reef was only 7 meters deep below sea level so the ship had cut a groove below the reef top some 3 meters deep! The damage to coral was only small as this area of the reef had not recovered too well but there were big boulders which were broken out of the old coral rock base at the reef top! In among the debris of rock were bits of the ship which were nothing more than rusty pieces that once were steel about 10mm thick! With this much rust falling off of this ship it makes me wonder just how sea worthy the ship really is! Having had a good look around, we could not really see anything near what could be describes as a Marine Disaster so we took a few pictures and had a fun dive on another part of the reef, saw some big fish and a couple of Turtles then went back into shore!
Once we had unloaded our Scuba Gear and were all packed up for our return to Gen San we asked the local fishermen details about the ship! The name was the Golden Akeni, it was a small coastal type tanker and they said its cargo was Animal Fat bound for Australia? This cargo did not seem true at all and from what we had seen, this rust bucket of a ship would not have been able to make such a journey! I contacted the Coast Guard in Manila and all that they could confirm was the name! The local fishermen also stated that the Ships Owners had paid a sum of money to the Kiamba Town Government to cover any costs of the damage to the Reef Top! to me, things were going too fast and cover up was in the wind!
I contacted the Coast Guard again but still the only thing that they would tell me was the name of the ship! They could not or would not tell me the name of the Ships Owners, What was its cargo, where was it coming from and where was it going, basically they told me nothing! I contacted one of the Gen San Harbor Pilots, he said he knew nothing of this ship! nobody seems to know anything about its existence! I am sure that Agatha Christie could make a very interesting story about such a mystery!
In a small place like this you would think that it would be impossible to keep anything secret as things are usually well published even before the events happen but in this case, not a word is being said, nothing was mentioned on any news media, usually if a tricycle has an accident it gets into the news but when a ship runs aground and there is not a mention makes me think that whatever this ship was doing, it was not what could be called legal and powerful people are involved! Usually after a Marine Accident all kinds of people including the Coast Guard, Ships Owners, Ships Insurers and others are supposed to investigate such incidents but again in this case nothing happened!
We were very lucky in this instance as the ship did not cause any real damage to the reef so we must be thankful for that! There was no spillage of the contents of the ship or fuel, once again lady luck was on our side! With a ship being able to hit a large shallow reef which is well marked on the Marine Navigation Charts tells me that the crew of this ship were not local, maybe not even Philippino!
There is a similar very shallow Reef called Takut Cabo just 300 meters from the Petron Fuel Depot Pier in Bawing, Gen San, we are trying to get the city to put good and highly visible marker buoys on this reef to warn shipping of its existence but so far, no action has been taken! I truly hope that Takut Cabo does not give me a reason to write up a similar incident in the future!
In my humble opinion there is no excuse with modern day navigation aids for any ship to run aground especially on areas which are plotted on the charts! Ships Crew and Owners who commit such mistakes should be prosecuted and made to pay for their stupidity! Who Ever They Are!