Man who worked on cruise ship that sank in 1992: 'Their screams still haunt me'

Man who worked on cruise ship that sank in 1992: 'Their screams still haunt me'

As he followed news of the Korean Sewol ferry tragedy, a shiver ran down his spine.

It sounded all too familiar.

Speaking about the Sewol tragedy, Mr Collin Ng, 52, said: "This incident really affects me because a lot more people died this time. It hurts a lot because they were just young kids."

It also hurts because it reminded him of his own experience.

In 1992, while working on a ship, Mr Ng was caught up in a tragedy that involved a ferry sinking and three passengers dying.

The freelance events manager said he has not been able to forget the chaos and panic as passengers tried desperately to stay alive.

Their screams still haunt him. Back then, he was an operations manager aboard the Royal Pacific.

It was originally named Empress of Australia and launched in 1964 as the largest passenger ferry built in the world.

The ship sailed the Sydney to Tasmania route and could carry up to 250 passengers, 91 cars, more than 100 containers and 16 trucks.

After 1986, it was sold and retrofitted as a cruise ship. Mr Ng said that the cruise industry was just starting to take off then.

It was the ship's maiden voyage as a cruise ship and it was a two-night "cruise to nowhere", passing places like Phuket, Malacca and Penang before heading back to Singapore.

There were 356 passengers and 179 crew on board. It was smooth sailing until around 2am, Aug 23, 1992, on the second night. The ship was passing the Strait of Malacca at that time.

SHIP HIT

Mr Ng, 52, said he had been in the restaurant having supper with his colleagues and friends when the ship was hit. Most of the passengers would have been asleep at that time.

"You could hear a 'bang' and the plates on the buffet table toppled down," said Mr Ng.

Later that night, he found out that it was Taiwanese trawler, Terfu 51, which had hit the ship.

After the impact, Mr Ng said he heard a deafening sound of metal scraping against metal as the fishing trawler pulled away from the ship.

"Our first instinct was to check what happened. We rushed to the open deck and saw a big gash on the side of the ship," Mr Ng said.

They stayed calm and waited for the announcement to come, but the only announcement made was in Greek, calling for the safety officer.

"We quickly put on our life jackets and went to the master station," said Mr Ng.

He remembered the safety officer going to the lower decks to check what had happened. When he came up, he immediately told everyone to put on life jackets.

Mr Ng said: "You couldn't imagine that the ship would sink."

Unfortunately, the PA system was not working.

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