'Romblon Triangle': Why Have Some of the Country's Worst Maritime Disasters Happened in One Specific Area?

Probably wise to steer clear of the area, just to be safe.

A cursory glance at some of the country’s worst maritime disasters will reveal an interesting and quite distubring pattern. Many of them happened in the waters in and around the province of Romblon. This has led to many conspiracy theories about a so-called Romblon Triangle, which, of course, is patterned after the much more famous Bermuda Triangle. 

Supposedly, the three points of the triangle are Concepcion municipality in Romblon in the north, and the islands of Dos Hermanos and Sibuyan in the south.

“So many ships have made the Romblon Triangle their final resting place,” Lemuel Cipriano, mayor of Sibale town in Romblon, told Manila Standard in 2014. “They went down to their watery grave with thousands of people on board.”

Here is a sampling of some of the most high-profile sea vessels that have met their end in the so-called Romblon Triangle:

1| MV Doña Paz

We’ll have to start with the biggest and worst. The country’s, and some say the world’s, worst peacetime maritime disaster of the 20th century is the tragedy of M/V Doña Paz. Over 4,300 people died or went missing when the passenger ship owned by Sulpicio Lines collided with oil tanker M/V Vector on December 20, 1987. It happened in Tablas Strait, which separates Mindoro Island from Panay Island and Romblon. 

2| M/S Don Juan

Seven years before M/V Doña Paz, a similar incident happened also in Tablas Strait. On April 22, 1980, luxury liner M/V Don Juan bound for Bacolod collided with oil tanker M/T Tacloban. Reports say the ship was only cleared to carry a maximum of 864 people, including its crew, but it was discovered after the incident that there were 1,004 passengers onboard. A total of 176 people were confirmed dead. The rest survived or were reported missing. 


3| M/V Princess of the Stars

The most recent incident happened on June 21, 2008. M/V Princess of the Stars was a passenger ship en route to Cebu from Manila that was allowed to set sail despite rough seas caused by Typhoon Frank. The ship capsized off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon. A total of 437 people perished, with over 600 still missing.

4| M/B Jem

M/B Jem was a motorboat that left Looc, Romblon going to Malay, Aklan on January 3, 1989. What was supposed to be a boat that could carry only 31 passengers reportedly had a total of 174 onboard at the time. It sank off of Aguho Point near Tablas Island, Romblon Sixteen people were killed and 45 were reported missing. 

5| Japanese ships during World War 2

At least four Japanese ships are said to be victims of the so-called Romblon Triangle. Musashi, Japan’s second most powerful battleship, and two destroyers—Nagato and Myoko—were sunk by Allied planes during the Battle of Sibuyan Sea. Meanwhile, the Yamato was heavily damaged there and eventually sunk when it arrived in Okinawa. 

Various sites also mention Adeter V, which reportedly sank due to bad weather, but we couldn’t find a reputable source. Still, even discounting that incident, it’s tough not to at least be concerned with all the major sea mishaps that have happened in the Romblon Triangle.

Is there really a Romblon Triangle? 

There have been urban legends about a so-called golden “ghost ship” that makes an appearance right before disaster strikes. It was there, reportedly, just before M/V Don Juan collided with the tanker, with some speculating that it was because Don Juan tried to avoid the ghost ship that led to its crash. Supposedly the ship is manned by Lolo Amang, or the Filipino version of the Flying Dutchman.

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Setting aside these legends and reports of the paranormal, other people have a logical explanation for the spate of “accidents” in the area. For one thing, the waters off Romblon have often been dubbed the “EDSA of Philippine waters,” referring to its status as a busy sea route for many ships making their way from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao and vice versa, so the likelihood of unfortunate collisions are just that much greater.

There’s also a theory that the area is where the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea meet, which causes dangerous riptides that

“Sea accidents and disasters are due to natural phenomena like high tides, storms, typhoons, human error, pilot disorientation, and other factors such as the topographic features of the area,” a Coast Guard official told Manila Standard.

So is this an actual version of the Bermuda Triangle? Is there something mystical going on in that part of the country that science can not yet explain? We’re not completely sure, but until then, might not be such a bad idea to avoid the area, if you can help it.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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