September 5, 2009

Asia's Titanic

I have just watched a rerun of Asia's Titanic on the National Geographic Channel. It's a documentary about the tragedy of the MV Doña Paz, the Philippine passenger ship which sank off Mindoro Island on the night of December 20, 1987, after colliding with the oil/fuel tanker MT Vector.

I have watched the documentary's earlier run on NGC middle of last week, but I was still moved to view it again this afternoon; this after I learned that Asia's Titanic was in fact a Filipino production. The first instance, the only "Filipino" I felt about it was its subject and the familiar voice of actor Joonee Gamboa narrating the story. (My penchant to miss the opening and closing credits did not serve me well). I came to know later that the documentary was directed by award-winning Filipino film director Yam Laranas; its pre-production, specifically the research was done by Filipinos; its production cast and crew all Filipinos; and "even the special effects and computer graphics... are proudly Philippine-made" [PDI].  Asia's Titanic is the first major collaborative work between National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) and a Filipino production group.

Of course, the bigger motivation to watch the docu once and over again is the story itself. Asia's Titanic is about the world's worst disaster at sea in peacetime. The world's worst in terms of loss of lives on a single ship - about 4,300 souls; and perhaps the world's most atrocious given the circumstances that surrounded the tragedy.

Five days before Christmas. Nightime but clear weather. An oil/fuel tanker zigzag-ing its way because of a defective steering rudder; carrying no Coast Guard inspection papers, and sailing (under)manned by unqualified personnel. More than 4,000 passengers in a ship built for 1,500. Party on board which left the question "Who was manning the bridge?" unanswered. Raging inferno at sea. A rescue operation hatched almost half a day later. Only 24 survivors.

Asia's Titanic is told through the eyes and words of some of the survivors who have continued to struggle transcending the trauma of the nightmare of 20 years ago. Sidebars to the narrative include original footage of interviews and proceedings that dealt with the legal wranglings that followed the accident. These parts show how callous can some people get just to escape responsibility. The two times I have watched the documentary I wanted to puke on the Sulpicio Lines' (owner of  MV Doña Paz) denial that their ship was overloaded. I wanted to puke on the Philippine Coast Guard's insistence that they have done actual headcount and the count was no more than 1,500 passengers. I wanted to puke more than when I saw the graphic original footage of the retrieval of some of the bloated, decomposing bodies of the dead.

As Director Yam Laranas put it, the story of the MV Doña Paz "is a very sad story, but one that needs to be told. It should not be forgotten." [PDI}

Asia's Titanic will run again on the 28th and 29th of September 2009 on the National Geographic Channel.


  1. meron kayang mabibiling DVD nito? maabangan nga ito sa 28th. thanks for the info

  2. hi, 'lan. hindi ko alam kung mag-release sila ng DVD nito. pero asahan mo the pirates will, hehehe... you can check with the NGC website for the specific show times... thanks for the visiting, kabayan.

  3. oooh, am interested, i wanna watch, maybe thru youtube if they catch it. pirates dvd, maybe. wala na akong direct cable eh, had it disconnected dahil wala namang nanonood.... ric lang and ako, gabi lang din...

  4. Astig na Filipino production. abangan ko ito!