by Jeannette Seale

That was the question the Filipino bos’n, Marlon, asked me as Joe and I sat in the crew mess of a ship that was unloading bulk cement.

The bos’n explained that he had been in two ship collisions at sea, the first one no one was hurt, but the ships were badly damaged. However, the second collision which took place in the South China Sea was caused by miscommunication between the officers on the bridge of the oncoming ship and his little bulk carrier and the chief officer had drowned.

Marlon, who was a helmsman at the time, had been relieved from his 8 to 12 morning watch, and after lunch was asleep when the ships collided. His captain had first radioed the approaching ship at 7 miles and then again at 3 miles to discuss how they would pass each other. The fast oncoming ship suddenly changed course and hit them broad side which immediately broke the smaller slower ship in half. The enormous thud and jarring knocked Marlon awake immediately. Marlon jerked open the cover on his port hole to see the huge green ship perpendicular to his ship on the port side!

He immediately pulled on his coveralls and ran to the stern. The large ship tried to back away, but as it did the huge gash allowed an enormous amount of water into the little broken ship. The aft end of his ship was already pitching upward at a sharp angle and he could see that the bow had broken away and was already sinking. Three men were frantically swimming in the ocean ahead of the stern section that was quickly sinking also. He jumped over the stern railing knowing that would be the last part of the ship above water. He said he was totally calm, thinking only how he could save everyone on his ship. He was close to the life raft canister which was lashed very securely to the railing. He could see the wreckage was sinking too fast for him to work with the life boat which was forward of where he was clinging at the stern. Their only chance for survival was the life raft.

Somehow he worked his way along the rail and released the life raft canister which fell into the sea and it popped open and the raft floated. He said it usually takes two men quite some time to unlash the raft but somehow he did it calmly by himself in an extremely short time.

He could see the captain on the wing above him running back and forth from the wheel house to the wing watching all the quickly happening events. Marlon yelled up to the captain to jump, jump into the sea, which he did! Two men in the engine room had not been able to climb the rapidly sinking engine room ladder and had climbed out of the funnel! One was screaming and crying, “save me, save me, I’ve got 6 kids at home.” The ship had sunk it seemed in less than one minute and the only man who had time to don a life vest was washed into one of the hatches after a hatch cover had broken away. He told Marlon later that the huge wave washed him into the hatch and as he looked up through themwater, fighting for his life, he could see the top outline of the hold with the blue sky above and thought, “I will die here in the hold!” Suddenly the huge deluge of water that was carrying him down hit the opposite side of the hold and shot straight up into the air, spewing the man out with it! He ended up in the water again beside the sinking ship and managed to make it to the raft!

As their ship sank, the offending vessel that had hit them carried on, with its crew hanging onto the rail while watching the men flail around in the water below them!

As the ship sank, 18 men out of 23 made it to the life raft. When the ship sank, the emergency positioning radio beacon went off and sent a message to the Coast Guard in Singapore and several hours later the Singaporean Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the raft that had 18 men crammed into it. After finding the raft, they radioed their CG ship the position so that they could be picked up by the CG ship. Four crew men had been plucked from the sea by an Indonesian fishing boat, and only one man was missing, the chief officer. His body was found three weeks later on a beach in Indonesia.

Marlon told me that for the entire time from the time of the collision until they were picked up by the CG, he was so very calm. He told me that even when they were in the raft, and the ship had sunk, and the offending ship had left the scene, the captain was in such a state of shock he could not reply to Marlon questioning him as to whether he should shoot off a flare, so Marlon did it anyway even though he was not authorized to do so.

Marlon could not believe that the two men climbed out the funnel even though he saw them do it! He told me they had considered their options, drowning in the engine room or being badly burned as they climbed the hot ladder inside the funnel. They chose being burned!

At the Coast Guard inquisition which was held later, it was determined that the men had been saved because of Marlon’s extremely cool thought process and quick action to release the life raft into the sea. It was daylight and the seas were calm and the men could see the raft. These three facts were the determining factors for the men to be saved. The officer on watch on the other ship was a junior officer who had been a radio officer and recently appointed to third officer and it was determined he probably was not qualified for the job he was doing.

It has been 10 or 11 years since that accident and Marlon had been wondering why God saved his life. Did God have some other job for him to do here? Had God sent an angel to protect him or to give him a clear mind in knowing what to do to save the men from his ship?

We have had some more time to discuss this tragedy and the chief officer dying and why we do not know all of God’s plans. It was my pleasure though, to explain to him God’s love and the gospel clearly and that God does not want anyone to perish, that he has sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins, and that He wants all men to be saved. We had a few more discussions about Jesus since that time, and Marlon trusted Christ to be his Savior. He waited 10 years from the time of the accident to hear “the rest of the story.”

Now Marlon is so exuberant and full of praise to the Lord Jesus because he knows who Jesus is and how much Jesus loves him! Each day we saw Marlon he was expressing his love for the Lord and repeatedly told us he would go home and tell his family the rest do the story. To God be all the glory, great things He has done.