Captains involved in Cebu sea mishap suspended-A A +A
Friday, August 23, 2013
CEBU CITY (3rd Update) -- The Philippine Coast Guard has suspended the captains of the two vessels that figured in an accident that killed at least 78 people off the coast of Talisay City.
The decision was made pending the Special Board of Marine Inquiry’s (SBMI) investigation on the collision between passenger vessel M/V Saint Thomas Aquinas and cargo ship M/V Sulpicio Express Siete near Lauis Ledge.
M/V Saint Thomas Aquinas sank after the collision, which occurred around 9 p.m. of August 16. As of Friday, August 23, 78 passengers were confirmed dead, while 42 remained missing. Of the fatalities, 48 were identified and 36 were released to their families. The rest of the bodies will be shipped, said authorities.
The SBMI, which started its probe into the accident on Friday, targets to finish the fact-finding inquiry in two weeks.
In Friday’s hearing, Captain Reynan Bermejo of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas testified that the cargo ship M/V Sulpicio Express Siete hit the passenger vessel’s shoproom first.
He told the SBMI chaired by PCG Commodore Gilbert Rueras that the Aquinas was running at 15 knots before impact and was about a mile away from Sulpicio ship.
About four minutes before the impact, he said he could not slow down anymore as collision was already imminent, stressing it will take about eight minutes to stop the ship’s propeller.
Bermejo said previous attempts to communicate with the Sulpicio vessel at Channel 16 were futile, citing only radar contact was made with the cargo vessel.
He said no visual contact could be made because of "background lights."
Bermejo also said that it was only much later that he saw red lights coming from cargo ship and that he immediately switched to hard port (left side) about four or five minutes before impact.
Within the four minutes, the Aquinas was able to maneuver to port side, which Bermejo said was the only evasive move he could make before the crash.
After having turned left, Bermejo said he maneuvered to right in attempt to avoid the "very imminent" collision.
He stressed to the SBMI that he was forced to alter the course because he did not get any response from the Sulpicio ship’s captain, Rolito Gilo.
Gilo, for his part, told the SBMI that he contacted Aquinas while it was still two nautical miles away but also got no response.
He narrated before the SBMI how quickly the Aquinas shifted course, stressing had the passenger vessel stayed on the inbound course, the collision would not have happened.
He said he did not foresee possibility of collision, as he thought the 2GO vessel would eventually change course.
It was only when the Sulpicio vessel was 0.5 miles away from Aquinas that Gilo felt a collision was already imminent.
Gilo said avoiding the 2GO vessel was in his mind prior to the accident, but he was not able to execute any avoidance course as everything happened so fast.
"It was so sudden. She changed her course," said Gilo, adding that after the impact, he stopped the engine, turned on the general alarm and shouted ‘Mayday!’ three times."
“Then I turned on public alarm system to instruct crew to assist survivors,” he said.
Aside from the two captains, also called to give their testimonies on Friday were a survivor and M/V Trans Asia 9 Captain Galipher Ian Faller, whose vessel happened to pass by the accident site minutes before the collision.
The SBMI said it will get as much information from the captains of the two vessels, as well as from their crew and some witnesses.
SBMI chair Rueras said they summoned the crew of Aquinas and Sulpicio for Saturday’s hearing, which will start around 9 a.m.
The probe has been conducted to find out if the captains of the two vessels observed protocols to avoid the collision, which also caused oil spill that affected villages in Cordova town in Mactan Island. (LRM/With Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)