Australian climber Vee Jin Dumlao was atop Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu when a magnitude-6.0 earthquake hit. When her group was left stranded by rescue officers, they decided to make the perilous journey down themselves.
It was supposed to be a quiet dawn climb.
Leaving at 2:30am for the top of Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu, Borneo’s tallest mountain, a group of 137 climbers — including two Australians — reached the peak’s granite plateau at dawn, and had expected to be back at Laban Rata for breakfast.
But at 7:30am, that plan abruptly changed.
“We had just completed the ascent to the peak, and [we were] making our descent, taking some photos when we heard a loud crash, and felt the ground shaking,” Vee Jin Dumlao, a clinical psychologist from Sydney, told the ABC.
Though Ms Dumlao felt calm at first, panic set in when the group was told that the magnitude-6.0 earthquake that rocked the mountain had destroyed their route back.
“When our guide took our empty water bottles to be refilled, at perhaps 1:00pm … they came back with news of massive landslides and the route having been decimated and no certainty of rescue,” Ms Dumlao said.
The Malaysian rescue officials said they were making an effort to reach the climbers, but could not land a helicopter due to poor weather.
“Fog was quoted as the reason for not rescuing the climbers, that was certainly true earlier in day,” Ms Dumlao said.
“However, around about 3:30pm the sky actually cleared right up, from ground level up to the mountains and that’s when we thought there’s nothing stopping them now from coming to get us.
“When the clouds lifted all the guides got a phone call from ground level to say ‘alright the helicopters are coming’. We prepared ourselves, we organised ourselves into groups but nothing happened.”
Despite the clearer weather, the climbers and their guides were told by officials that they would not be evacuated until the next morning.
“We were not equipped for an overnight stay, it was an open place, we couldn’t huddle along any walls, because that’s where the risk of landslide was worst,” Ms Dumlao said.
“Many in the group were already getting hypothermia, it was very cold up in the mountains, it was starting to rain at some point, some of the climbers were already getting wet and we hadn’t eaten since 1:00am that morning.
“And that’s when the guides said ‘they’re not coming, we’d better make our way down the mountain ourselves’.”
After being told, nine hours after the quake hit, that no help would be coming until the next morning, the freezing, hungry climbers were forced to make the perilous journey down the mountain.
“When we saw that all the conditions were right for the rescue and yet they had made the position that they were not coming, I was both angry but also determined to make it down on our own,” Ms Dumlao said.
Ms Dumlao and her travelling partner made the perilous trek, followed by the other climbers, down to Laban Rata, a small village rest stop halfway up Mount Kinabalu.
“There were continuing tremors, continuing rustling of trees and continuing landslides that we could hear in the distance and it was quite fretful really, the potential of being caught in a landslide,” she said.
The Malaysian government reported 13 people were killed in the disaster, and for Ms Dumlao the sight of death all around was confronting.
“When I saw the corpses, lying uncollected in the rock fall, that was probably the point when I realised that things were actually very, very bad, and fear set in,” she said.
Government rescue effort a ‘farce’
Arriving at Laban Rata, Ms Dumlao saw uniformed rescuers milling around the “chaotic scene”.
“They were looking rather lost really, and it was the mountain guides who did most of the work attending to the injured, strapping people into stretchers, getting ready to take them down the mountain,” she said.
“The whole government emergency response was a farce.”
She said the effort appeared disorganised, and without helicopters, the rescue officers were of little help, stuck on foot and five hours away from the mountain’s peak.
“They congregated in groups occupying resting spaces, sharing smokes and food that were meant for survivors,” she said.
“A convenient helipad remain unused when they could have transported rescuers to the foot of the peaks. Instead “rescuers” arrived at 4:00pm, nine hours after the earthquake struck, on foot, much too tired to be of help.”
Ms Dumlao said many more people could have been helped, and deaths may have been prevented, had helicopters landed in Laban Rata.
“If the helicopters had delivered some help earlier and landed in the helipad at Laban Rata, they may certainly have been able to attend to any injured people quite sooner,” she said.
After seven hours trekking in the freezing dark, through treacherous rain and mountain-rattling tremors, the climbers reached the trek’s starting point Timpohon. Upon their arrival at 12.30am, the site was strewn with medics, military and media.
All members of Ms Dumlao’s group made it to the mountain’s base safely. But she says emergency services let her, and many Malaysians down.
“I cannot find evidence for me to respect the government who have all the conspicuous demonstration of responsibility but none of the true act of it,” she said.
“It was quite appalling when the rescue services got credit for something they did not do at all.”
Local guides the ‘real heroes’
Ms Dumlao said she was “so grateful” to mountain guide Jomius, who helped the trekkers to safety.
“The journey we took required the engineering of the guides who made abseiling equipment from the bare resources at hand,” she said.
“The mountain guides were the heroes. They risked life and limb and made some difficult decisions that ultimately saved our lives, and had neither help nor recognition from the authorities.
“Many had homes affected in the quake. They lost friends and family yesterday. Yet they remained with us guiding us to safety till the very end.”
She said she appreciated that the guides could have saved themselves much faster without the slow-moving climbers.
“Yet they stayed and did what they could to meet our needs,” she said.
“I have great regard for the people around Mount Kinabalu who are defined by their culture spirituality and most of all their care for people.”
This is not what you want to hear, from such a cruising destination as Phuket, but frankly there has long been reports of petty crime and theft from boats left in Chalong Bay, for the most part on unattended yachts. They are an obvious target.
In this case, the thieves thought they had the yacht to themselves to gather their stolen loot and ransack the yacht, but they were disturbed by a brave captain.
Recent armed attacks against yachties by thieves in popular Chalong Bay in Phuket, Thailand, is the first violence that the local cruising community can remember here towards yachts in a very long time. A French yachtsman suffered severe knife wounds during an attack aboard his boat last week, and in another incident shots were fired when thieves were surprised during an attempted burglary on a vacant boat.
It is tragic for cruising sailors when once safe anchoring spots become dangerous and one can only hope that this is an isolated case. Witnesses reported at least two shots fired in the dark on Chalong Bay last week as a gang of thieves gave chase to a Phuket boat captain who outfoxed the criminals until the police arrived in force.
Capt Bruce Issell was the hero of the incident. He was warned by a silent alarm at about 11:30pm that intruders had boarded the Davinci, catamaran.
He raced to Chalong Pier, boarded the Davinci’s dinghy and headed for another vessel, a Sunseeker 50, to investigate what had triggered the alarm.
Once aboard the Sunseeker, he motored to the Davinci catamaran with spotlights ablaze at full strength. ‘The thieves found themselves well and truly lit up, but could see only one person aboard the Sunseeker,’ a witness told Chris Husted, News Manager with the Phuket Gazette.
Seeing only one boat approaching them, the thieves attacked the Sunseeker and attempted to board the luxury yacht and capture Capt Issell and his one young Thai crewman. A chase ensued throughout the moored yachts and commercial craft in the bay for some 20 minutes, with the Sunseeker ducking and weaving to hold off the raiders.
‘There were at least two bright flashes as the thieves fired shots at the Sunseeker. You could see the flashes from the shore,’ the witness told the Gazette.
Police reinforcements quickly arrived in dinghies, changing the balance of power. The thieves soon surrendered and were escorted to the floating marina under construction in the bay. ‘They were questioned and handcuffed, and the stolen items were inspected,’ the witness told the Gazette. ‘For all their efforts, the thieves had managed to steal only some children’s foam paddle boards, a set of binoculars, some flashlights and other odds and ends,’ the witness confirmed.
Scuffles broke out as the officers placed the gang of about four men under arrest. The men were then transported to Chalong Police Station in the back of a police pickup truck.
The bright yellow dinghy the thieves had used in the thwarted raid was also seized as evidence.
The catamaran was taken from its mooring to the marina for further police inspection.
‘I could not be less than 100% impressed with all concerned – Bruce Issell and his crewman – and the very professional Chalong Police,’ said the witness, who asked not to be identified publicly.
Niwat Duangmanee and Theeraphol Malasan, both 21, were later charged with using knives to commit armed robbery, using a vehicle to evade police and receiving stolen property after a cat-and-mouse chase through Chalong Bay marina that ended with police firing into the air and apprehending the men.
It is hoped that the men arrested were the same raiders who have terrorized the Baan Nit area off Cape Panwa in the previous week. A Frenchman whose yacht was anchored in that area was startled by raiders late one night. A scuffle broke out on board and the Frenchman suffered at least seven knife lacerations during the attack, including a cut to his head. Fearing for his safety, the Frenchman did not return to sleep on his yacht that night. It may have proved a prudent move as the thieves returned the same evening and made off with what was reported as a substantial bounty of yachting ‘removables’.
The yacht has now sailed away, no doubt with no intention to return.
by Chris Husted, Phuket Gazette/Sail-World Cruising
A wrong turn by the vessel Sea Smooth was the “actual cause” of its fatal collision with the Lamma IV on October 1 last year in which 39 people died, an expert told the commission of inquiry yesterday.
British maritime expert Captain Nigel Pryke returned to the commission to answer questions, after giving testimony in December. As he did then, he identified the Sea Smooth’s left turn, moments before the collision, as the key mistake. “The actual cause of the collision was the Sea Smooth’s alteration of course to port at 20:19 and a half minutes,” Pryke said. “That was absolutely the cause.” The two vessels would have narrowly missed each other if the left turn had not been made, Pryke said.
He spoke while being questioned by Charles Sussex SC, who represents Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry and the Sea Smooth’s crew. Sussex quoted regulations that say one method for crewmembers to determine whether a head-on collision was looming was to look at the other ship’s navigation lights. But Pryke said they should not rely on the lights alone.
“The whole point of the rule of the road is to keep vessels apart. It’s not about arguing with each other which rule applies,” he said. “In almost every case, you would alter course to starboard [to the captain’s right]. It’s in a navigator’s DNA that he alters to starboard.”
Pryke said the Sea Smooth, as a high-speed vessel, should have been the “first one to alter course” when it foresaw a collision.
“At that stage, in fairness to the Lamma IV, because of the relative speeds of the vessels, [the captain of the Lamma IV] would have had to have been very, very slick to have avoided it,” he said.
The Sea Smooth left the scene soon after the crash, and 39 people died.
The inquiry also heard yesterday that Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry’s guidelines telling ferry coxswains how to react, after a collision with another vessel, could be “confusing”.
In one section the guidelines tell the helmsman to “steer away from the [ship’s original] course”, giving no further explanation. But in another section the guidelines say they may have to stay at the site and help the other vessel.
Nelson Ng Siu-yuen, the company’s general manager, said coxswains should be able to judge for themselves whether to remain at the scene of a collision depending on the situation.
He told the inquiry the ferry company did not require coxswains to get their eyesight and health regularly checked. Sea Smooth captain Lai Sai-ming had his eyes tested in 1997 when he got his Marine Department licence, which is valid until 2023. Lai was involved in three minor accidents from 2008 to 2010.
The lack of regular check-ups was widespread in the industry, and the department did not require them, Ng said, adding that the two parties were discussing the issue.
See a Video Simulation of the Crash. Follow this link
Lack of watertight door sank Lamma IV, inquiry told
Naval architect also tells hearing there wasn’t enough time for crew to evacuate passengers
The Lamma IV would still be afloat with two gashes created by the Sea Smooth if there was a watertight door between its compartments, the commission of inquiry into the October 1 ferry collision heard.
Naval architect Dr Anthony Armstrong also came to the conclusion, based on computer projections, that the deck at the stern of the Lamma IV started to go below the water 96 seconds after its collision, and that it took eight seconds for the vessel to tilt from seven degrees to 70 degrees, with the stern hitting the seabed, and settling into the mud. In total it only took around 118 seconds from the collision, for the Lamma IV to rest at 70 degrees.
“[There is] certainly not enough time in which the crew would have been able to organise evacuation from the ship,” the commission-appointed expert witness said.
The bow of Sea Smooth had created two gashes on Lamma IV’s hull during the collision – one in its engine room and the other in the tank room.
Armstrong found that the stern of Lamma IV would almost be submerged, but that the vessel would remain afloat if just those two compartments were flooded.
The second gash was made by the large kinetic energy generated by the high speed of the Sea Smooth, Armstrong said.
But a large opening on the bulkhead between the tank room and its adjacent steering gear compartment led to the flooding of the third compartment, which contributed to the sinking of the vessel, Armstrong’s calculations showed.
According to the original drawings of the ship when it was built, a watertight door was meant to be fitted at the opening. But shipbuilder Cheoy Lee had earlier argued that it was just a mistake made by an outsourced designer.
Further calculations by Armstrong showed that even when the ship was newly built in 1996, Lamma IV would have sunk if the watertight door was not installed, regardless of the installation of a 8.25-tonne ballast at the stern two years later.
The Australian expert also said whether or not Sea Smooth had reversed after the collision would make no difference to the flow of water into the hull of Lamma IV because the bow of the Sea Smooth had been broken and left inside Lamma IV.
Some Lamma IV passengers who testified earlier said they felt the engine restarting and thought the other vessel was backing out.
But Armstrong said if that was the case, it must have happened within 10 seconds as Lamma IV was sinking quickly. He said the engine sound could have come from the flooding of Lamma IV’s engine. He believed the collision bulkhead at the bow of the Sea Smooth stopped it from penetrating further into Lamma IV.
The hearing continues today.
Meanwhile, the seven crew members of the two vessels were expected to have their bail extended for another month when they report to police today, pending a prosecution decision by the Department of Justice, a police officer said.