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 cargo ship Saga Spray.
The vessel was in port in Sweden, carrying a load of wood chips from B.C. The chips were known for their ability 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 unload the chips lay sprawled out too.
Sumook ran for the seafarer first.
“I felt for the pulse,” said the 36-year-old, who has worked for Saga Forest Carriers for more than a decade.
“There was none,” he said, so he gently slid the deceased man aside and moved quickly to the side of the dockworker.
“I could feel a pulse, but he was not breathing,” Sumook said Tuesday after he was given an award for his bravery by the Swedish Carnegie Foundation.
The ceremony took place aboard the Saga Tucano, which is now in the port of Vancouver. Sumook is working aboard the vessel, and the presentation was arranged after the foundation finally tracked him down.
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 now Sumook faced a new challenge, he said. The stevedore 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,” he said, explaining that 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 Tuesday if he felt like a hero, Sumook laughed, shaking his head.
“But I am proud,” he said, adding that his daughters — aged 10 and 6 — have both told him they are proud of him too.
“That makes me very happy.”
Present to congratulate Sumook Tuesday were 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. Many of the ports had no Swedish representative, complicating the effort.
Tuesday, he received an inscribed gold watch, a certificate and a cheque. A lunch was also organized as part of the celebration.
“It is for heroism,” said Anders Neumuller, Sweden’s consul in Vancouver.
“It is a story that really needs to come out so that more people see what they can do in a situation like that.”
Capt. Clifford Faleiro, operations manager for Saga, added: “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.”