Off-duty PCG officer who saved 62 lives onboard ill-fated vessel to receive 2020 IMO Award for exceptional bravery at sea

Probationary Ensign (P/Ens) Ralph O Barajan, off-duty Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer who ensured the safety of 62 lives, including his own onboard ill-fated passenger vessel, MV Siargao Princess in the waters of Cebu on 07 November 2019, will receive the distinguished 2020 International Maritime Organization (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea.

The IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea is an annual international recognition for individuals who performed acts of exceptional bravery – risking their own lives to ensure safety of life at sea, or to prevent or mitigate marine environmental damages.

Upon comprehensive review of the nomination submitted by Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Honorable Antonio Manuel R. Lagdameo, the IMO Panel of Judges, under the Chairmanship of IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim, decided to bestow said award to P/Ens Barajan. PCG Commandant, Admiral George V Ursabia Jr commended the selfless efforts of P/Ens Barajan to ensure the safety of his fellow Filipinos.

“P/Ens Barajan’s display of courage, determination, and presence of mind which led to the successful rescue of 62 victims, including himself is indeed worthy of emulation and respect for him, his family, and for the PCG – as a perfect demonstration of the Coast Guard service,” Admiral Ursabia said.

On 14 October 2020, P/Ens Barajan will be one of the exceptional Coast Guard personnel who will be commended during the celebration of the 119th founding anniversary of the PCG.

The following narrative was part of the nomination papers of P/Ens Barajan submitted by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines through Ambassador Lagdameo to the IMO: At around 09:30 a.m. of 07 November 2019, MV Siargao Princess departed Catagbacan Port in Loon, Bohol enroute to Poblacion in Sibonga, Cebu with 55 passengers, including P/Ens Barajan and seven crew members. While underway to port of destination, the MV Siargao Princess encountered big waves approximately two meters high, resulting to flooding inside the vessel.

P/Ens Barajan, who was calmly sleeping before the incident occurred was awaken by panicking passengers at around 11:05 a.m.

He immediately informed Coast Guard Sub-Station Bato and Coast Guard Station Southern Cebu regarding their situation and requested for assistance.

While waiting for the PCG rescue team, P/Ens Barajan assisted passengers by distributing lifejackets and instructing them stay calm and seated to maintain vessel stability.

He also sought the assistance of the crew members for the provision of lifejackets to children onboard.

Afterwards, P/Ens Barajan looked for the captain and convinced him to declare abandon ship as the best option, given the gravity of the situation.

After declaration of abandon ship, P/Ens Barajan guided the passengers in safely jumping off the vessel one by one.

He jumped off last after ensuring that no person was left behind.

MV Siargao Princess sank in less than ten minutes after it was declared abandon ship.

While floating on the water and waiting for rescue, P/Ens Barajan tied the lifejackets of passengers and crew members in groups so that everyone remained secured.

Said effort allowed the personnel of BRP Suluan (MRRV-4406) to easily locate the victims on the water, thereby contributing to the swift conduct of rescue operations.

All passengers and crew members were declared safe aboard BRP Suluan (MRRV-4406).

While on their way to the nearest port for further assistance, the passengers were surprised to learn that P/Ens Barajan was also a passenger.

They thought he was the vessel captain by how he swiftly and confidently led their safe evacuation from the ill-fated vessel.

Aside from the IMO and the PCG, P/Ens Barajan was also recognized by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Central Visayas, Provincial Government of Bohol, De La Paz Barangay Council, Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Office, Boy Scouts of the Philippines, Alpha Phi Omega Internationals Inc., Alpha Phi Omega Philippines Inc., Basic Education Department Holy Name University, and the Holy Name University College of Health Sciences.