Body of man who died en route to Guam is sent to Saipan


The lack of a medical examiner in Guam following the retirement of Dr. Aurelio Espinola prompted the U.S. territory to send to Saipan for an autopsy the body of a person who was found lifeless aboard a Matson vessel that was on its way to Guam.

A source told Saipan Tribune that the crew member passed away in his sleep as the Matson ship was on its way to Guam from Palau. However, since there are no medical examiners in Guam, the body was shipped to Saipan for examination yesterday.

The body is right now at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. morgue.

Bernie Valencia, Matson’s vice president and general manager for Guam and Micronesia, later issued a statement about the matter: “Out of respect for our fallen crewmember, we made arrangements for the proper handling of his remains upon arrival [on] Saipan. Mortuary professionals were waiting at the port with a hearse to receive our crewmember, but local authorities took control of the process and our colleague was not given the respect any of us would expect for a family member. We are working with local authorities to understand why this happened and to get our crewmember released so that we can resume the process of returning him to his family without delay.”

According to Saipan Tribune archives, autopsies in Guam have been put on hold due to the lack of a medical examiner to conduct post-mortem forensic investigations following the retirement of Espinola, the only forensic pathologist in the Marianas, in January last year, at the age of 77.

Back in January, the Office of the Attorney General hammered out an agreement to have a pathologist based off of Hawaii to conduct post-mortem forensic investigations in the Marianas.

Last Wednesday, the Port Authority of Guam had to delay operations on the Matson ship that arrived in Guam that day after a crew member was found lifeless on board.

Port Authority of Guam general manager Rory J. Respicio was notified that morning by Matson that a crew member aboard M/V Papa Mau was found unresponsive in his cabin as the vessel was en route to Guam. The captain notified the U.S. Coast Guard immediately, and emergency procedures were implemented.

Once notified of the lifeless crew member, the Port prohibited any operations on the vessel and the port’s assistant operations manager escorted four nurses on board to swab the lifeless crew member to check for the presence of COVID-19 infection. Three of the public health nurses were from the Port Clinic and one was a supervisor who came down to the port to take the lead on the swabbing. The nurses were escorted off the ship and the sample taken to DPHSS for testing. The vessel was also met at the dock by Guam Customs and Public Health.

Matson advised that all its crew members were recently tested for COVID-19, and all received negative results. Matson also noted that crew members do not take liberty at the ports they visit.

As a precaution, the Guam port prohibited any operations on the vessel until the COVID-19 test result is received. If the test comes back negative then operations will begin immediately on the vessel. If the swab comes back positive for COVID-19 then the vessel will be placed in quarantine by the port pending further guidance from DPHSS and other authorities.

Kimberly B. Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Albiso Bautista has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at

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