Celia K. Selepeo and Sylvan Tudela, both part of a 20-member group that became stranded on Pagan for close to a week, said they were glad that no untoward incident happened during their brief “vacation” in one of the CNMI’s northernmost islands.
Selepeo and Tudela along with former Pagan residents, AP photojournalist Daniel Lin, representatives from nonprofit group Earthjustice, and other members of environmental organizations went to the island to see firsthand its biodiversity. They went on the nearly 200-nautical mile journey north aboard Super Emerald.
Tudela owns Chelu Photos and his staff—Diego Kaipat and Gus Castro—went with him to Pagan to film the documentary “Too Beautiful To Bomb.” They envision the documentary would promote Pagan and raise awareness to protest the U.S. military’s plans of creating a live fire training range facility.
The group left Saipan on Aug. 10 and was supposed to be back on Aug. 13 but strong winds and heavy rain caused by tropical storms Conson and Chanthu delayed their trip back. The low pressure area and the monsoon flow also added to their problems.
“Keli [Tenorio] who was in charge of the trip was in constant communication with her husband Norman on Saipan. The winds started picking up so we discussed and decided to stay put to wait the storm out,” Selepeo told Saipan Tribune.
“Super Emerald captain Bob Taguchi was forced to cut the anchor out and moved to the other side of the island to find shelter. We thought that we’re going to lose the boat but there was no mishap. The boat [captain] tried to find shelter and [they] hid there for a couple of days,” said Selepeo, who added their only line of communication was Lin’s satellite phone.
She said Lin, Earthjustice, and another group from California were surprised to see how beautiful Pagan was. “We went up there to show them where the military wants to make exercises. They learned that pagan is a beautiful place.”
“We’re going to try to do whatever we can to fight for Pagan. We’re going to make sacrifices for her since she’s for the people. It was a never tiring adventure and we all get together and laughed every night,” added Selepeo.
Tudela, meanwhile, said he and his documentary crew worked for two days in getting footage that would help them piece together the documentary. “We shot most of our footage in the first two days. We set up everything the first day.”
“Once we settled down, we did some drone shots on the two lagoon beaches. The next day we went out and hiked to different parts of the islands with Gus Castro as one of our guides,” added Tudela, who is the documentary’s director of photography. A nonprofit group is funding the documentary.
Rain, rain, and more rain
Tudela said they took refuge at Northern Islands Mayor Jerome Aldan’s house where they had to board up the windows and fix the door to keep them dry from the pouring rain. “The first night we were outside and kind of weathered the first part of the rain.”
“The next day, it was not getting better, and we decided we should get inside the house. When the rains stopped the following day, we fixed the house since the windows don’t have any covers and the door was open. We worked to shield us from the rain.”
He added that the tarp that they brought was not enough to keep them dry. “Our biggest problem was the rain, and there were lots of it. The first two days was kind of okay but it got worst after that.”
They collected rainwater using their empty water bottles since they were running low on drinkable water, other people caught wild pigs for food, and other members of the group cut wood and prepared the meat to smoke it.
MV Luta to rescue us
Selepeo said Norman Tenorio tried his best to find another ship or any vessel that was big enough to travel under the bad weather and rescue them in Pagan.
He got a hold of Lt. Gov. Victor B. Hocog and asked him if he could talk to the U.S. Coast Guard to allow the cargo vessel MV Luta to set sail and pick up the group.
“Norman’s plan went smoothly. The MV Luta was given clearance as the weather improved. We were picked up on Aug. 18 and got back on Saipan on Aug. 19,” said Selepeo.
“We’re very thankful for all their help and dedication to keep us safe. Their effort to send a ship that would sail despite the bad weather is truly good thing. We are very thankful to the crew of MV Luta,” she added.