Pinoy Sailor Jesus Sumook Honored for Heroism

When the emergency alarm sounded, Jesus Sumook knew he had to act. The veteran seafarer grabbed a breathing apparatus and headed down a shaft into Hold 9 of the Saga Spray cargo ship.

The vessel was in port in Sweden and carrying a load of wood chips from B.C.; the chips were known to be able to deplete the oxygen in a cargo hold, and the alarm meant workers’ lives could be at stake.

Below him, a fellow Filipino seafarer lay motionless. Not far away, a dockworker who had been helping to unload the chips also lay sprawled out.

Sumook ran for the seafarer first. “I felt for the pulse,” the 36-year-old said. “There was none.”

He gently slid the deceased man aside and moved quickly to the dockworker.

“I could feel a pulse, but he was not breathing,” Sumook said Tuesday, after he been awarded by the Swedish Carnegie Foundation for his bravery.

Sumook was working aboard the Saga Tucano, a vessel belonging to Saga Forest Carriers — the same international shipping company he’s been employed by for more than a decade — when the foundation finally tracked him down.

Now docked in the port of Vancouver, the Tucano was the site of Tuesday’s ceremony.

Sumook, a father of two, said he refused to give up on the dockworker as long as he had a pulse. He began to administer CPR.

“Then he began to gasp,” Sumook said, smiling as he recalled the moment back in November 2006 in the port of Helsingborg.

But he said he then faced a new challenge.

The man had begun to gasp as he breathed in the deadly carbon monoxide that had already taken one life. Sumook opened a door to let in outside air from above, but he knew it wasn’t enough to help.

So he did the only thing he could: “I took off my mask and I gave it to him too.”

The pair began to take turns with the oxygen from the mask, hoping that a rescue crew would arrive to help. Both men would lose consciousness before help arrived. They were rushed to hospital with several others, all of whom recovered.

Tests showed later that carbon-monoxide levels in the hold exceeded the approved level by 10 times.

Asked if he felt like a hero, Sumook laughed Tuesday, shaking his head. “But I am proud,” he said.

His daughters — aged 10 and 6 — have both told him they are proud of him too. “That makes me very happy.”

Sumook was congratulated Tuesday by representatives of local labour groups, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dockworkers like the man that Sumook saved.

The Carnegie Hero awards were established worldwide in the early 1900s as a way of recognizing civilian acts of bravery. It took the Swedish organization more than two years to find Sumook as the sailor moved from port to port on his global schedule.

“That he risked his own life to save someone else’s speaks volumes about what he did, and I think he rightly deserves all the praise and recognition he is getting,” said Capt. Clifford Faleiro, Saga’s operations manager.