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Miraculous Escape from Shipwreck
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Miraculous Escape from Shipwreck

C.G. Chen—Taiwan

Adapted from Holy Spirit Monthly—Issue 423

Hallelujah, in the name of Jesus Christ, I bear this testimony.

On March 19, 2012, at 2:42 a.m., gravel ship Haixiang 8 set off towards Hualien Harbor, carrying about 4700 tons of earth and a total of fifteen crew members.

I worked as a helmsman on board. That night, I was on duty from 12:00 midnight to 4:00 a.m. At about 3:45 a.m., the next crew member (who happened to be my cousin) took over. Before I handed over my shift duties, the captain specifically reminded me to pay attention to the tilt angle on the right side of the ship.

After returning to the bedroom from the cockpit, I prayed and went to bed. Somehow I was filled with a foreboding and dared not fall asleep. Unexpectedly, about half an hour later, I heard the captain's announcement: "Attention all crew, wear your life jackets and report to the cockpit to receive further instructions!” The captain also told my cousin to rush to every bedroom to wake up all the crew members. The crew bedrooms were two to four floors below deck, which meant all the members were in great danger.

When I heard the radio announcement, I knew that disaster had struck. In panic, I hurriedly put on my diving suit, stuffed some important documents and a bottle of mineral water into my pockets, and pulled on the life jacket as I ran upstairs. It was then about 4:45 a.m., and the ship had already tilted fifteen degrees to the right. Sensing the critical situation, the captain had already alerted the Port Authority Coast Guard to summon help.

My cousin, who had experienced shipwreck before, immediately ordered us to head to the stern (the rear part of the ship) to escape. Seeing that the ship was about to capsize, we held tight to the barrier cables and swayed with the vessel. The ship was traveling at seven knots, and it went bow first into the water. The hull of the ship looked as though it would also sink in a mere six seconds. Everything was a stunning repeat of the sinking of the legendary Titanic, except that our ship was going under at an alarming speed.

Just before the ship sank, my cousin shouted: "Jump! Jump!" and disappeared as he leapt into the water. As I was about to jump, the front cable came loose and dangled down. I hesitated and waited for the cable to detach completely for fear of being entangled by the cable. Once the cable was completely detached, I released my grip on it and jumped into the water shouting: "Hallelujah, Lord! Save me!"

When I entered the water, a powerful wave of water swept me far away from the sinking bow of the ship. Before I knew it, I was just next to my cousin. When I touched his shoulder, he turned around and was shocked to see me. He said: "Are you such a good swimmer you could catch up with me so quickly?!” My cousin had been swimming desperately away from the ship since hitting the water.

As seamen, we had often heard veterans explain how a sinking ship would create a whirlpool effect and suck everything down with it in a spiral as it sinks into the ocean. That was why everyone had been desperately swimming, trying to get as far away from the sinking ship as possible. As my cousin and I turned around, we saw the lights of the sinking ship disappear. Almost like a movie scene, the whole sea was suddenly plunged into darkness, eerie silence punctuated only by the sound of waves, gusts of wind, interspersed with our shipmates’ sorrowful shouts for help.

The temperature of the water was about ten degrees Celsius; the sea waves were about four to six meters high (very rough conditions) while the wind speed was about sixty to seventy kilometers per hour (equivalent to a gale). The water felt bitterly cold. My cousin and I took out the distress lights from our life jackets and waved them about, hoping to attract attention to ourselves. Not too far away, we spotted some other distress signals, probably from some of our shipmates who were also floating in the sea, struggling to survive while waiting to be rescued. Gradually, these intermittent shrill cries for help became softer. Then it was all quiet, and we could only hear the sound of the waves and the raging winds. My cousin muttered: “Dead!” At this point, I was both sad and terrified, and I felt myself trembling helplessly.

My cousin and I were wearing wetsuits, anti-freeze caps and lifejackets, and all these had temporarily kept us warm. We redoubled our efforts to swim farther away from the shipwreck site, all the while praying, “Dear Lord, save us!” I thought to myself, “I have fallen so short of the glory of God, how can I face Him now?” I pleaded in my heart, “Dear Lord, give me one more chance, let me do more work for You!” I started to sing the hymn "Jesus Loves Me" over and over, alternating it with prayers of supplication as I swam along. I do not remember now how long this went on.

I was so cold and scared; I could feel my lips trembling and my teeth rattling. So I shouted out the hymn "Lead me, lead me, Savior, lead me, lest I stray; gently down the stream of time…Lead me, Savior, all the way.”

Then, something miraculous happened—a strong wave swept toward us a plank of wood about forty-five centimeter wide, two hundred fifty centimeter long, and about five centimeter thick. Since I had no energy left to swim towards it, I asked my cousin to swim and grab the piece of wood. Both of us then gripped the plank on both sides with our left arms. This helped us to stay afloat without too much effort, and we could finally relax a little. We continued to pray and sing hymns, and, in our hearts, we were jumping for joy and thankfulness to the Lord Jesus.

About fifteen minutes later, another wave swept over an identical plank of wood, and once again, my cousin retrieved the plank, and we used two instead of one piece of wood for improved stability. At that moment, our distress lights stopped working. We were not sure how long we would have to wait before someone discovered us. So to conserve energy, we did not attempt to swim anymore, but simply let our bodies float in the water, swaying with the waves.

Again I prayed earnestly: “Dear Lord, save us, save us!” I thought of the divine work to be done. Then, after about twenty minutes, another wave brought along a long bench, floating inverted with its legs in the air. Since it was not far from us, I urged my cousin to go grab it for us. When we put the two wooden planks perpendicular to the long bench in between the legs of the bench, the bench suddenly flipped into an upright position. Amazingly, the two planks remained firmly in place. We quickly "sat" astride the bench. In this way, though our bodies were still immersed in water, our heads were above water and we did not have to risk swallowing more seawater.

After more than an hour, a shimmer of light appeared in the horizon, and the sky started to brighten. We could see the surroundings, and saw that the sea was a dense mass of grease. My cousin said: "When a ship sinks, all the oil and grease will surface to the top." Indeed, this was true for us; we let out a sigh of shock when we saw that our hands and necks were all covered with black oil.

Soon, the sky had completely brightened. Suddenly we saw a freighter in front of us—Asia Cement No. 3 had come to render help after the distress signals were dispatched. Hope gave us new strength—we waved, shouted for help, and swam energetically towards the freighter. Finally, the crew aboard Asia Cement No. 3 spotted us and threw us life buoys. But the current was too strong, and we could not grab hold of the life buoys. Asia Cement No. 3 then tried to approach us stern side, but the rotation of the rear blades formed strong currents and carried us even farther away from the freight. However, this also meant that the black oil was effectively dispersed from the water around us. Once the freighter realized this difficulty, it decided to remain stationary. Thank God, at this time, although we were still bobbing in the water, the sea around us had been rid of the black oil and grease, so we did not inhale any more toxic fumes.

Finally, at 6:13 a.m., the coast guard rescued my cousin and me. Our hearts were full of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. As it turned out, we were the first crew members to be rescued. The Lord Jesus had preserved us, so we could respond to the questions posed by the examining doctors. We went through X-rays, electrocardiogram, blood tests, and blood pressure monitoring. The blood pressure actually soared to two hundred millimeter mercury, but the doctor reassured us and said it was due to the state of fear we had been in, so there was nothing to worry about. After a series of thorough checks, we were diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia.

As for the other crew members, our captain died from hypothermia, while a few of our colleagues who were rescued had to be treated in the intensive care unit. The final tally revealed that, out of fifteen crew members, seven were rescued, six died, and two were still missing.

During our hospitalization, my cousin and I received much care and prayer support from Zheng Bin church. May the Lord Jesus remember their love. I also thank the Lord for somehow arranging for my cousin to be on the same ship with me, for the instruction to run to the stern during the emergency and for providing me with earlier opportunities to work at sea. The latter had taught me to take precautionary measures during shipwrecks, e.g. putting on a wetsuit, taking along mineral water, and keeping a life jacket by my bed so that it would be ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice.

While we were waiting to be rescued, my cousin and I had drunk mineral water to replenish water in our body. To keep ourselves calm, we sang and prayed together, relying on the promise that God would deliver us. This greatly helped us to overcome the extreme cold and fear and to survive the dark and long night.

Praise the Lord! I was sixty-two years old when the disaster struck, and without God’s love and care, I could not have taken only one minute to wear the diving suit, don the lifejacket, and run to the cockpit. It took less than five minutes for the ship to tilt from ten to fifteen degrees, and then to forty-five degrees. In that moment of life and death, God enabled me to calmly see the loosening cable and prevented me from being entangled—what amazing grace!

“But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!" (Ps 115:18)

May all glory and honor be unto our Lord and Savior. Amen!

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Author: C.G. Chen