Author Anne Paylor is an aviation journalist who finally took the plunge and completed her PADI OWD in 2011. In July last year, Anne spent 10 days diving in Komodo National Park with Worldwide Dive and Sail, during which she completed her AOWD and Nitrox qualifications. She was not compensated for this article
In the wake of the devastation left by the passage of Super Typhoon Haiyan through the central Philippines, liveaboard dive boat operator Worldwide Dive and Sail (WWDAS) was quick to weigh into the relief effort, ferrying supplies to remote communities inaccessible by land.
The first ‘mercy mission’ was to the island of Malapascua, a dive location renowned for interaction with thresher sharks, which took a direct hit from the storm. Local dive centre operators Sun & Fun and Sea Explorers requested the Siren Fleet’s help in getting supplies to the island, and sponsored the trip, working closely with global charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
One of WWDAS’ 40-metre wooden phinisis (traditional Indonesian two-masted sailing ships) duly left Mactan on Thursday evening, arriving off Malapascua early the following morning carrying 15 tonnes of food, 16 tonnes of fresh water, blankets and clothing. The trip was undertaken while awaiting official approval for a more substantial mission to Leyte Island at the behest of MSF.
WWDAS keeps a phinisi – SY Philippine Siren – stationed in the Philippines year round, operating luxury diving trips. At the time the typhoon struck, a second and brand new boat – SY Philippine Siren 2 – had just arrived in the archipelago from the boat yard in Indonesia where it was built.
Both boats and their mainly Filipino crews took shelter in Cabilao and Negros when the storm hit and weathered the typhoon unscathed. While the Philippine Siren returned to her tourism duties, the new boat, which was not scheduled to start commercial operations until late December, was enlisted to help with the relief effort.
WWDAS representative Paul Collins accompanied the expedition and said: “Malapascua was severely damaged by the storm, but amazingly, the people we met there were in good spirits and already working hard to restore their homes and businesses. Local banca (outrigger boats) and dive centre boats came to help us unload the supplies and water into an assortment of containers.”
Philippine Siren 2 then returned to Cebu in preparation for the more extensive relief mission to Leyte Island in conjunction with MSF.
She left Cebu on Sunday night and arrived in Guiuan on the southeastern coast of Leyte Island early on Tuesday morning, carrying medical supplies, a small generator, gasoline and diesel supplies, and propane gas tanks as well as food and water to support the MSF operation there. In addition, the boat is equipped with two water desalination units capable of supplying some 12 tonnes of fresh water a day.
The boat was due to remain in Leyte until Sunday, acting as a temporary field base for MSF personnel where they are able to eat, rest and shower.
WWDAS Director Frank van der Linde said: “What the Philippines needs right now is tourism! Tourist dollars are an economic mainstay for this country and crucial for the maintenance of its infrastructure. Much of the country was not damaged by the typhoon and remains open for business as usual. As the devastated areas of the Philippines start the slow process of recovery, the whole country needs tourist dollars more than ever and we urge people not to put off planned visits to the country.”
It is a sentiment echoed by the Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT). In an open letter to the European tourism industry, Venus Q. Tan, DOT Region Director Europe said: “Tourism for the Philippines continues to be one of the major contributors to the economy making up approximately 8% of the GDP. It plays a significant role in rebuilding lives and businesses in communities. The eventual business brought towards the country goes a long way in providing jobs and infrastructure support in numerous regions. Tourism is a multiplier industry. Encouraging more travel and tourism to the country now will provide much needed jobs and livelihood for our people; and indeed put meaningful contribution to survivors of this disaster.”
Both Frank and his business partner Mark Shandur, who together own WWDAS, have first-hand experience of dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. When the tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004, Frank was diving in the waters off Phuket, Thailand, while Mark was in Sri Lanka, where he subsequently spent six months helping with the relief effort. They both recognize the harm done to recovery endeavours by the spontaneous dissipation of tourism in the wake natural disasters, and urge visitors not to cancel planned trips to the Philippines.
To that end, for sailings between now and 31 January 2014, WWDAS has committed to donate 50% of the trip price for all remaining berths booked on both Philippine Siren boats to MSF and the Philippine Red Cross.
As far as diving is concerned, Frank said: “For the Siren Fleet the majority of our trips remain unaffected. Reports of good weather and diving conditions have been coming in from Cebu, Bohol and Negros (Dauin) as well as the all clear given for diving in Anilao and Puerto Galera. Whilst Leyte Island has been the most affected by the typhoon, the area of Sogod Bay is far south of the main path and all trips planned from February 2014 will be going ahead as scheduled. The Tubbataha reefs were not in the path of the typhoon so we can still expect great diving there when the park opens in February. The region around Donsol and Ticao was thought to be in the direct path of Haiyan but the typhoon moved south leaving dive centres and resorts with very minor damage. And thresher sharks have been sighted around Malapascua, where many of the deeper reefs remain unaffected.”
Busuanga airport was closed for a few days, but has now reopened, and although two trips have been re-routed to avoid Coron as a result, WWDAS hopes that by mid-December, both boats will be operating as normal.