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Ship Survivors Arrive in Bermuda

March 25, 2000

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) _ Survivors of a cargo ship that sank in rough seas off Bermuda hugged the Canadian sailors who rescued them and fought back tears as they walked down a gangplank onto solid ground Saturday. Six other crewmembers drowned in the sinking and 12 others were missing and presumed dead.

The 13 crew members of the Greek bulk carrier Leader L, most of them from the Philippines, survived several hours bobbing amid gigantic waves before being hoisted by helicopters onto the Canadian navy ship Iroquois and brought to Bermuda.

``I feel like I’ve been given a second chance,″ said the ship’s fourth engineer, Rudolfo Jumawan, who acted as the crew’s spokesman. ``All we can think about now is those friends of ours who died.″

The survivors, who were reported to be in good medical condition but exhausted, were in the care of the Salvation Army. They were expected to stay in the British territory for about five days to replace passports to allow them to return home, government spokeswoman Bev Morfitt said.

Canadian and U.S. military units ended their search Friday evening for the dozen missing crew members from the 776-foot ship that had 31 people on board when it sank late Thursday in heavy seas. It went down about 400 miles northeast of Bermuda.

Survivors told their Canadian rescuers that they believed many of the crew members went down in an enclosed life raft that was still attached to the ship when it slid under with terrifying speed.

Rescuers plucked the 13 sailors from relatively warm seas Friday in a dramatic operation made treacherous by 15-foot-high waves, gusting winds, poor visibility and dwindling fuel supplies. It took several hours for help to arrive at the ship’s remote location.

``We held hands in a circle, waited for help and prayed together for four hours,″ Jumawan said.

``It was a pretty rough ride and we were always worrying that we wouldn’t get there in time,″ said Canadian navy Sgt. Tim Lanouette.

Six bodies were recovered from the ship and were taken to Bermuda until they can be returned to the victims’ families.

The captain, who was among those presumed dead, had called for help after a 45-foot steel hull plate was ripped loose, allowing sea water to flood a hold. Owned by Leoninus Shipping of Greece, the Panama-registered ship was carrying salt from Spain to New York.

Jumawan said the surviving crew members did not know why the hull came loose.

As the ship was sinking, a Canadian rescue plane picked up the ship’s captain calling for help.

``There was definitely panic in his voice,″ said Master Cpl. Darryl Cattell, a crewman on the plane. ``It was hard to figure out if he was in the water or in a raft. At one point we heard him say, `Save me.′ ″

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