5 vessels kept from sailing

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


CEBU CITY (Updated) -- Five of the seven Weesam vessels of SRN Fast Seacrafts Inc. were suspended on Monday so the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) can inspect and ensure these are seaworthy.

The preventive suspension order signed by Marina Administrator Emerson Lorenzo came two days after M/V Weesam 8 ran aground off Talisay City last September 10.

Marina authorities also announced the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Cebu Station will be investigated for its delayed rescue operation and the fact that one of its lighthouses wasn't functioning, said Undersecretary Aristotle Batuhan of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

Also on Monday, Coast Guard Cebu commander Rolando Punzalan urged the Cebu City Government and other local government units (LGUs) to pass ordinances that will penalize captains of vessels who fail to immediately report accidents at sea.

His proposal was tackled during the emergency meeting called by Mayor Michael Rama Monday morning with officials of the Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and the City’s Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (LDRRMC).

Before Batuhan left for China on Monday for an official mission, he informed Admiral Ramon Liwag, the PCG commandant, about the "delayed and dismal" rescue operation.

Explanation

The Marina has deputized the PCG to implement maritime laws and regulations.

Lorenzo could not be contacted for comment, but Batuhan forwarded to Sun.Star Cebu some of the Marina administrator's text messages on the crisis committee's decision to suspend operations of five Weesam vessels.

"This is consistent with previous action on similar incidents. We have also asked the Coast Guard for an explanation on the reported non-functioning of a lighthouse and the alleged two-hour delayed response," read Lorenzo's text message to Batuhan.

Mardon Martin, senior supervisor of Marina in Central Visayas, identified the suspended vessels as Weesam 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The two other vessels, Wessam 1 and Weesam 2, were spared because these are dry-docked.

Martin said the suspension follows the same procedure applied to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines after M/V Asia Malaysia sank in Iloilo City last July 31 and Island Shipping Lines, after one of its fast crafts caught fire last month. The chief mate and two passengers died in the latter accident.

Marina-Central Visayas Director Nannette Villamor-Dinopol said she was about to issue an order suspending the operation of Weesam 8, but was informed by their central office that the Maritime Management Crisis Committee was convened by the administrator Monday morning to take up the Weesam incident.

Inspections

The preventive suspension order came Monday afternoon.

Martin said that Weesam 3 and Weesam 5, which ply the Bacolod City-Iloilo City route, will be re-inspected and audited by Marina office in Western Visayas based in Iloilo City.

Weesam 6 serves the Ormoc City-Cebu City route, while Weesam 8 covers the Cebu City-Tagbilaran City route, and both will be re-inspected and audited by Marina-Central Visayas.

The re-inspection and audit of Weesam 7, which plies the Zamboanga City-Isabela, Basilan route, will be handled by Marina-Zamboanga Peninsula.

The re-inspection will check the condition of the vessels to determine seaworthiness, while the audit will examine the company's safety management systems.

Ship owners or operators are required by law to submit to Marina their safety management systems.

"We will conduct the re-inspection and audit and we will require ship owners or operators to correct the lapses, if there are any. We will only clear the vessels to sail again only if all the requirements are complied with," Martin said.

Visibility

Weesam 8 chief mate and boat captain Kim Caroro filed a marine note of protest Monday. In it, he said the vessel is a 206.54-gross-ton fast craft passenger vessel with an authorized passenger capacity of 270. It is registered in Zamboanga City.

He said that last Saturday, they left Tagbilaran City for Cebu City at 4:35 p.m. but while they were approaching the south entrance channel at 6:10 p.m., they suffered from poor visibility and rain, and there were some fishing boats ahead.

"I ordered to alter our course to portside to clear one fishing boat that was running across our way as it did not slow down. As visibility was really poor, I switched on the search lights and I noticed that we were heading out of our course and I immediately pulled the throttle to neutral and then on a reverse mode but it was too late, as the vessel ran aground 1815hrs (6:15 p.m.) at Lipata banks," Caroro said.

Caroro said he immediately checked the engine room and other parts of the vessel and found out the propellers were badly damaged.

He added he returned to the vessel's bridge to call the Coast Guard, but instead received a call from Coast Guard telling him that they were ready to help.

Penalty

He also said their stewards and stewardesses and crew addressed the concerns of the passengers. No passenger was injured.

In last Saturday's incident, the BFP and the local disaster council or LDRRMC reportedly responded and rescued passengers of Weesam before the Coast Guard reached the area.

"While it is already a standard operating procedure (for the captains to immediately report to the Coast Guard), the legislation will be a tool we can use to really emphasize the obligation of the captain to report so we can get valuable information promptly. The objective of this is to stress and emphasize their obligation," Punzalan said.

The penalty will be on top of the penalty imposed by the Marina.

Under a Marina memorandum circular, captains of vessel who fail to immediately report accidents to Coast Guard will be fined P10,000 for the first offense. The seafarer's identification card and book of qualifications document of compliance or the "seaman's book" will also be suspended.

Very shallow

"All in all, we arrived after 40 to 45 minutes," said Punzalan, responding to complaints that the rescue was delayed. "We should understand, and please understand, that it already included the assessment of the area."

The area where the vessel ran aground, Punzalan said, is "very shallow" so the Coast Guard vessel could not easily reach the vessel since their rescue vessel is big and has two propellers.

Aside from the proposal to pass an ordinance, Punzalan said they also agreed to make a contingency plan for marine emergencies.

Alvin Santillana of the LDRRMC said they will also regularly conduct drills or simulation exercise for all agencies involved in responding to marine emergencies.

The Coast Guard, he added, should be included in the membership of the LDRRMC.

Santillana said the LDRRMC will also request Rama to endorse to the Coast Guard's national headquarters the request of its Cebu station for additional personnel. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 13, 2011.

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