Friday, July 04, 2008

Scuba Divers Push on Despite Death, Dangers in Sunken Princess of Stars

Despite attempts to loot the M/V Princess of Stars by a group of local Philippine reef-hunters, Coast Guard divers have gone through heroic recovery efforts inside the wreck of the ill-fated ship.

*DISCLAIMER* Article contains elements graphic in nature.

There were palm prints on the ship's windows, bodies were bloated four to five times their size. And death was palpable both above and below the water.

The sheer horror of the dead bodies of passengers of the sunken M/V Princess of the Stars and the difficulty of retrieving them have left even veteran Coast Guard divers weak, sapped of their physical strength and overwhelmed by their emotions.

But beyond the horrors, the divers interviewed by the INQUIRER Saturday also spoke of the mission they felt compelled to accomplish at all cost and at the risk of their own lives.

Vanessa Garon, 28, and her sister Alexandra, 23, are the only two women divers helping the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) retrieve bodies inside the wreck of the ill-fated ship.

The INQUIRER caught up with the sisters, daughters of counselors Bob and Emmy Garon, Saturday during their checkup at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City.

Authorities stopped retrieval operations when it was learned that the ship carried a cargo of the toxic pesticide endosulfan. Concerned about the health of the divers, officials ordered them to undergo medical tests.

The two first dove into the wreck last Thursday and had logged in around 80 minutes underwater. They went down as far as 120 feet.

"From the top, you can smell death. Underwater, you can actually feel death," Coast Guard auxiliary diver Vanessa said.

What they saw below was something they said they might never forget. "What really struck me were palm prints on the windows. It was like people were trying to get out. When I saw that, I could feel their panic. I asked myself what I would feel if I were in their position in those last few minutes. It was very spooky," the dusky and petite Vanessa said.

"It felt really eerie down there. There were a lot of bodies. There were bodies all around and it was really hard getting them out. It's not as simple as plucking them out of the wreck," said Alexandra, nicknamed Alex.

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See also: Divers find bodies in sunken Philippine ferry

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