An off-duty officer of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) who saved 62 lives and his own aboard MV Siargao Princess in Cebu in November 2019 will be recognized for his exceptional bravery at sea by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

In a message, the PCG said Probationary Ensign (P/Ens) Ralph Ofalla Barajan will be the first recipient of the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea from the PCG.

It said Barajan will formally receive the award on Wednesday (Oct. 14) during the 119th founding anniversary of the PCG.

“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 the safety of life at sea, or to prevent or mitigate marine environmental damages,” the PCG said in a press release issued on Monday.

The decision to bestow the award on Barajan, it said, was made by the IMO panel of judges, led by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, after being nominated by Philippine Ambassador to the United Kingdom Antonio Lagdameo.

PCG Commandant, Admiral George Ursabia Jr., commended Barajan for his selflessness and for being a “perfect demonstration of the Coast Guard service”.

“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,” Ursabia said.

According to a narrative that formed part of the Barajan’s nomination to the IMO, MV Siargao Princess departed Catagbacan Port in Loon, Bohol at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 7, 2019 en route to Poblacion, in Sibonga, Cebu with 55 passengers, Barajan, and seven crew members.

While in transit, the ship encountered waves about two meters high and resulted in the flooding of the vessel.

Barajan was awakened by panicking fellow passengers at around 11:05 a.m., after which he immediately informed Coast Guard Sub-Station Bato and Coast Guard Station Southern Cebu regarding their situation and requested assistance.

While waiting for rescue, he helped distribute lifejackets to the passengers, instructed them to stay calm and seated to maintain vessel stability, and sought the assistance of crew members for the provision of lifejackets to children onboard.

Top photo: EXCEPTIONAL. Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Probationary Ensign (P/Ens) Ralph Ofalla Barajan is set to receive an international award during their 119th anniversary on Wednesday (Oct. 14, 2020). The International Maritime Organization conferred an “Exceptional Bravery at Sea” award on Barajan for saving the lives of 62 people and his own after their ship sank on Nov. 7, 2019. (Photo courtesy of PCG)

Less than 10 minutes before the ship sank, the ship captain declared abandon ship after being convinced by Barajan as the best option given the gravity of the situation.

Barajan guided passengers on how to safely jump off the vessel one at a time and he jumped off last after ensuring that no one was left behind.

While floating at sea and waiting for rescue, he tied the lifejackets of passengers and crew members in groups to increase their security.

“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),” the PCG said.

Aside from the IMO and PCG, 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, and the College of Health Sciences of the Holy Name University. (Raymond Carl Dela Cruz. PNA)