Dona Paz Collision – 4,386 Killed
By James Donahue
The collision with the oil tanker Vector in Tablas Strait in the Philippines destroyed the tired old
passenger ferry Dona Paz, started a fire and left an estimated 4,386 passengers and crew members dead.
It happened on December 20, 1987, and has gone down in history as perhaps the deadliest peacetime
maritime disaster ever. The only survivors were 24 passengers from the ferry and only two of the 13 crew members on the Vector.
The Dona Paz was making a regular nighttime passenger run from Leyte Island to the Philippine capital
of Manila when the two ships collided off the island of Marinduque. The Vector was steaming from Bataan to Masbate with 280,000
gallons of gasoline and other petroleum products. When they collided in Tablas Strait, the Vector’s cargo exploded and
the fire quickly consumed the two doomed ships.
There were few survivors to tell why the vessels crashed. It was learned that there was only a junior
officer on the bridge of the Dona Paz while the other officers were below drinking beer and watching television. The Vector
was operating without a license or qualified master, and had no lookout on duty. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
The few survivors on the ferry said they found the lockers containing the life jackets locked and
were forced to jump overboard into burning gasoline-drenched waters to save themselves. Another ferry saw the flames and arrived
on the scene in time to pull the few survivors out of the water. The crew of that ferry said the flames were shooting as high
as a ten story building as their ship approached.
A board of inquiry found the crew of the Vector at fault for the collision, but also found the Philippine
Coast Guard negligent for allowing the Dona Paz to sail in such an overcrowded condition.
Built in Japan in 1963, the ferry was just 305-feet in length and licensed to carry only 1,518 passengers.
Interviews with the survivors suggested that more than twice that many people were packed on that ferry. The final death toll
was never confirmed but the official estimate was 4,375.
Both ships burned and sank in about 1,788 feet of water, not far apart.
The Dona Paz was originally named Himeyrui Maru. At that time, while operating in Japanese waters,
it could legally carry 608 people. It was sold in 1975 to Sulpicio Lines to run as a passenger ferry in the Philippine Islands.
It was given the name Don Sulpicio.
The vessel was gutted by fire on June 5, 1979, while steaming from Manila to Cebu. At that time the
ship was beached and all 1,164 passengers were rescued. The wreck was salvaged and rebuilt. It then returned to service as
the Dona Paz.
The Vector was a smaller ship, only 219 feet long. It was built in 1977 and owned by the Vector Shipping