LOOK | Survival saga: Happy memories of his wife kept Aussie alive lost at sea

December 25, 2017 - 11:55 PM
Shipwreck survivor Lionec Ansselin and wife Enid Gemma Menamkat. Photographed by ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

Butuan City – Lionec Peter Ansselin, 74, the Australian sailor who survived the foundering of the luxury yacht Katerina at the height of Tropical Storm Urduja a week ago, said thoughts of his wife kept him alive until rescue came after five harrowing days tossed at sea.

Ansselin expressed to InterAksyon how thankful he was to be rescued by fishermen from Siargao in Surigao del Sur, and shared that it was the happy memories with his wife that kept his hopes up and pull through the ordeal without food and water.

On December 17, at around 10:00 in the morning, fishermen on a small wooden boat came across a life raft with three foreigners about 80 kilometers off the coast of Tandag City in Surigao del Sur and nearby Siargao Island.

Heavily-damaged portside of the vessel. ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

The fishermen towed the rescued foreigners and arrived at Tandag City at around 4 o’clock that afternoon, where they were immediately attended to by the medical staff of Adela Serra Ty Memorial Medical Center.

Unfortunately, by 10:00 in the evening, one of the three rescued foreign nationals died due to severe dehydration, identified as Anthony John Mahoney, 73 years old, a resident of Townsville, North Queensland, Australia.

The two who survived were identified as, Laurie Miller, 68 years old, of Trinity Beach, Queensland, Australia and Lionec Peter Ansselin, 74 years old and married to a Cebuana and residing in La Union.

Inspecting the interior: Enid Gemma Menamkat (right) wife of survivor Lionel Ansselin, together with Mayor Nena I. Ladaga-Quijano (left) and a member of the local rescue team of Loreto town. ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

Journey of survival
For the 47-years old Ansselin, it was his first time to travel outside Australia on board the yacht. He shared that the farthest he sailed previously was along Queensland coastal waters.

Ansselin had hoped to bring his yacht, the 48-footer Camper & Nicholson luxury sailing yacht rechristened S/V Katerina, to the Philippines where he planned to spend Christmas with his wife, Enid Gemma Menamkat at their resort in La Union Province in Luzon.

For the trip, he picked as his companions the veteran yachtsman Mahoney, who is said to have 41 years of experience in cross country yachting and has experience navigating through Philippine and Indonesian waters in the past.

Together with Miller, another veteran yachtsman, they set sail from Australia on October 31, 2017. Ansselin also brought with him their two dogs.

“We arrived in Davao on Sunday for resupply and replenishing fuel, and left on Monday morning, December 11, 2017.

“That time we paid our fees for staying in the wharf and for loading our fuel and supplies. We asked the port authority for advise on any change in the weather, as well as with the local Coast Guard if it was safe to travel toward the Visayas. We expressed our intent to land in Subic a few days after. But no one warned us on anything, so we continued with our voyage,” said Ansselin.

Ansselin said they felt there was something wrong with the weather on the morning of Wednesday, December 13, 2017.

“The weather had slowly gotten rougher, while dealing with the sudden change of weather, we also noticed that the water was slowly filling up the bilge. The harder the waves hit the boat, the more water started to come in.

“So we decided to rig two emergency pumps, but eventually it could not keep up with how much water was coming in the boat.”

The yacht Katerina is beached at the seaside town of Loreto. ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

Bigger and bigger waves
By lunch time they decided to launch a life raft in case the situation worsened. The waves were getting bigger and bigger, and the surroundings were becoming so dark they could hardly see the horizon.

“As we were about to board the raft, we switched on the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB. On the raft, we had loaded up several food items and some water supplies.

“Both Miller and Mahoney also brought along them several of their belongings to add more ballast weight and improve stability of the raft.”

Unfortunately, all their food, water and other items, such as the signal flair, were lost when their raft was flipped over by what Ansselin described as a massive wave.

“At around 10:00 in the evening, a wave two storeys high wave swamped us, and we lost everything.

“Three hours later, another wave flipped the boat. This time I lost my two dogs, I could not save them as I couldn’t see more than a few feet away while holding on to the raft,” said Ansselin.

“Since we had switched on our EPIRB, we felt certain that we would be rescued.

“But by Friday, we started getting worried. There was no indication of rescue.

“By Saturday, the weather improved somewhat, and all that was in our mind was that it would not be long before a rescue vessel would come pick us up. But, unfortunately, no one came.

Gaping hole on the portside hull. ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

“It was also at this time that Mahoney got more agitated and even drank his own urine as he was complaining of how thirsty he had become.

“We prayed for rain so that we could have fresh water. Unfortunately, it did not rain.”

Happy memories of Enid Gemma
“It was the happy memories of me and my wife that kept me alive – the sweet loving thoughts of our time together, and the times that we will be spending after the ordeal, kept me alive.

Shipwreck survivor Lionec Ansselin and wife Enid Gemma Menamkat. ERWIN_MASCARIÑAS, News5 | InterAksyon

“It kept me from losing hope,” said Ansselin who added that he tried very hard to ward off negative thoughts that would make him more desperate and less able to cope with the dire situation they were all in.

“I was sad for my two dogs, though, and I was also sad for my boat, but the brighter side of it all is the second life that has been granted to me. And now, I was looking forward to a chance to spend more time with my wife and create more happier memories together,” he said.

No rescue, no Coast Guard
Ansselin wondered aloud why it was that nobody from the Philippine Coast Guard (PSG) approached to rescue them.

“I heard later on that the Australian government was able to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) regarding our situation, and I learned that the Coast Guard was notified about the incident. But, I wondered why nobody came even when the weather had gotten better and the sea was more conducive for search and rescue,” Ansselin said.

Jake Miranda of the 1004th Aux Squadron of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA) who communicated with the PCG in Surigao del Norte through the research vessel (RV) Petrel docked in Surigao City port, shared his thoughts.

The Petrel was part of the team that recently found sunk World War II warships in the Surigao Strait.

“On December 14, 2017, as I understand, Australian Rescue alerted Philippine authorities after picking up the EPIRB signal transmitting south of Homonhon Island. The next day, Dec. 15, 2017, another signal was picked up from the EPIRB north of Siargao Island. It is believed initially that the crew must have brought the EPIRB when they abandoned ship,” said Miranda.

“The RV Petrel served as communications coordinator to link the Littoral Observatory Station (LOS) Surigao with another vessel that happened to be passing the proximity, the MT Dang Peng Wan transiting through Surigao Strait, as well as the Loreto local government unit in Dinagat.

“Katerina at that time was still in high seas and being battered by the strong winds and waves of Typhoon Urduja,” he said.

According to Miranda, the Katerina was later found wrecked off the rocky coast of Loreto, Dinagat Island Province on December 16, 2017.

PSG personnel stationed at Dinagat Island pointed out that a search and rescue operation was impossible during the storm, as no surface vessel was available in the vicinity that was capable of navigating the rough waters spawned by the storm. They declined to proffer further comment about the any action that could have been taken when the weather got better.

Enid, the wife, told InterAksyon: “It’s amazing he survived. A lot of people couldn’t believe that was possible out in the ocean for several days and in the face of a storm. Maybe Lionec has a bigger purpose in life for him to fulfill to be given the second chance in life and live.”