HAGIT: Greedy Filipino businessmen, gov’t regulators trifle with the lives of passengers

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By: Dionesio Grava
First posted in  ireport.cnn.com
July 30, 2013

Who hasn’t heard of the Titanic? The largest ship afloat at the time, RMS Titanic was a British ocean liner considered to be the epitome in comfort and luxury. And safety — but not where it counts most. She had watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors but there were only enough lifeboats for barely half of the 3,327 passengers and crew. Maybe because it was thought to be “unsinkable.” She sank on April 15, 1912 after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and with her went 1,502 lives.

It was a disaster that occurred during her maiden voyage and thereafter memorialized in numerous movies, books, exhibits and songs. But the worst sea mishap was yet to come. The sinking of the MV Doña Paz 75 years later in the Philippines sea after colliding with the MT Vector has been called the world’s deadliest
peacetime sea tragedy. Although the shipping firm concerned, Sulpicio Lines, officially declared that 1,493 passengers and 60 crew members were aboard the ill-fated ferry, investigations indicated that the actual number was more than double that figure.

Many of the passengers were reportedly not listed on the manifest. Of the 26 survivors — 24 of them passengers of Doña Paz while the other two were from the Vector’s 13-man crew — only five of them were listed on Dona Paz’ manifest. Some survivors mentioned heavy overcrowding of passengers sleeping along corridors, on the boat decks, or on cots with three or four persons on them. The Philippine Supreme Court acknowledged an estimated 4,000 passengers. The website Terrific Top 10 put the figure killed in excess of 4,000. The December 29, 1987 issue of the Philippine
Daily Inquirer published the names of 2,000-plus missing passengers compiled by radio and television stations in Tacloban City.

On December 20, 1987 the Doña Paz left the Tacloban port in Leyte province for the 20-hour trip to Manila. As reported, the weather that night was clear but the sea was choppy when the two ships collided at about 10:30 pm somewhere in Tablas Strait, near Marinduque province. The Philippine Coast Guard report indicated
that only one apprentice member of the crew of the passenger ferry “was monitoring the bridge when the accident occurred. Other officers were either drinking beer or watching television, while the ship’s captain was watching a movie on his Betamax.” The tanker
Vector was reportedly operating without a license, without a lookout or a properly qualified master.

After more than 25 years later the survivors and families of the victims are still waiting for justice. It is reported that a class suit alleging negligence on the part of the charterer of the Vector drags on in a civil court in Louisiana, USA. Then the Philippine Star came
up with the report that the Philippine Court of Appeals has cleared an executive of the Cebu-based Sulpicio Lines of liability over the sinking of the Princess of Stars. This despite the fact that there were already storm warnings before the ferry left the port of Manila
for Cebu; that life boats were tightly lashed to the deck and difficult for passengers and crew to deploy them in the twenty minutes after the storm hit before the ship capsized. Many of the life jacket lockers on the ship were reportedly locked and the few life vests available were outmoded.

It is alleged that the court is soft on wealthy respondents like the Sulpicio Lines. Retired Rear Admiral Benjamin Mata of Board of Marine Inquiry was quoted saying that with its record of 45 sea mishaps over the past 28 years, no insurer would want to touch
Sulpicio with a ten-foot pole. In addition to the Dona Paz, other Sulpicio ships involved in horrible accidents include the Dona Marilyn in 1988, the Princess of the Orient in 1998 and the Princess of the Stars in 2008. It is said that there were six other ships that caught fire, seven had engine problems and stalled at sea, and 19
ran aground.

Another report reads: “In spite of the numerous maritime accidents in the Philippines, not a single captain or shipowner has been held criminally liable. In addition, Sulpicio, uniquely, is the only passenger
carrier that was dropped from membership in the Protection & Indemnity Club, a cooperative insurance venture that would otherwise have provided adequate coverage.” Liability and insurance were particularly important because the ferry was also carrying a 40-foot container of highly toxic pesticide endosulfan, a 10 foot container carrying four other pesticides and a large quantity of bunker fuel.

And so the moro-moro goes on. Then Senator (now DILG head) Manuel Roxas II said: “Allowing a passenger ship to sail with tons of hazardous chemicals in its cargo, a string of sea mishaps to its
name and still not enough insurance protection in case of damages to the environment and local communities is a case study in poor governance.”

Not addressed are the other earmarks of poor governance. It said that the 30-minute pre-departure inspection of ship is a “joke.” Most life jackets used in RP vessels are defective. And then there is the practice of buying used passenger ships from Japan. It has also
been a joke that even as Sulpicio kept on losing ships in mishaps, the company continues to grow, acquiring ships that normally will not pass safety requirements by the Tokyo government.

“The ships that we have imported from overseas are considered garbage by the owners in Japan and wherever else they got them,” said Retired Rear Admiral Amado Romillo, another BMI member who resigned after he was accused of being biased by Sulpicio
Lines. “Because of the bleeding hearts of MARINA, they say pity the ship owner who cannot afford to buy new ships. So here, just buy this garbage,” he added. And that, folks, is how greedy businessmen and government regulators are trifling with the lives of the traveling public. — Dionesio C. Grava

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