6 more bodies recovered from sunken 2GO vessel-A A +A
Thursday, August 22, 2013
FIVE days after the sinking of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas, rescuers yesterday recovered six bodies, bringing the death toll to 71.
Only 49 passengers remain missing so far, according to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC).
Realizing that the sea get rough around noon due to monsoon winds, the joint diving team from the Incident Command Task Force began their retrieval dives at 5 a.m.
yesterday. The divers were able to enter the ship’s lower deck cabins, but they ended their search at 10 a.m. due to the strong underwater current.
PDRRMC chief Neil Sanchez said five dive teams with 73 divers conducted the search and retrieval operations around the vessel.
Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Cebu Commander Weniel Azcuna said they are still conducting “search, rescue and retrieval” operations as some passengers of 2GO Travel’s M/V St. Thomas Aquinas might have been brought ashore in other areas.
Azcuna said divers also have to face risks posed by dislodged cargo and other items inside the vessel.
The PCG earlier said M/V St. Thomas Aquinas sank to a depth of 110 feet, about 2.3 kilometers off Talisay City.
Only technical divers can go down in such depths. They were able to enter the vessel yesterday.
A PCG ship with a decompression chamber—to treat divers with bends caused by nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream—has been stationed near the site for emergencies.
Also yesterday, 2GO assistant vice president for shipping management Lito Salvio announced that the company hired two experts to assess the oil leak that has affected the coastlines of Cordova.
2GO Travel also began applying organic oil dispersant on the oil leak area. The shipping firm provided gloves, masks, rakes and garbage bags to be used in cleaning up the oil leak.
The firm also booked 457 plane tickets for Manila and Surigao for survivors, read a statement from the shipping firm.
Azcuna denied allegations that the PCG released the captains of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express Siete.
He said the captains and crew of the two vessels are in the custody of their shipping companies.
Cargo vessel Sulpicio Express Siete collided with passenger vessel M/V St. Thomas Aquinas near Lauis Ledge off Talisay City last Friday night.
Azcuna revealed that members of the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) will arrive in Cebu this week to investigate the incident.
Azcuna said the BMI was supposed to arrive yesterday but flights out of Manila were canceled due to bad weather.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), on the other hand, got the statements of three shipping companies, whose vessels were in the vicinity of the collision.
The vessels of Trans Asia Shipping, Weesam Express and Ocean Jet were nearby when the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO Travel and Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier collided last Friday night.
“We asked for their statements to check if ano yung nakita nila (We asked them what they saw),” said Marina enforcement officer Arnie Santiago.
He added that Marina is also checking if there were other vessels in the vicinity of the collision to shed light on the incident.
The captains of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express Siete submitted earlier their statements but Santiago said these were conflicting so they have to look for witnesses.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama wants a vessel traffic monitoring system (VTMS) installed at ports to avoid similar accidents.
Rama, quoting Salvio, said the ports of Batangas, Bataan, Manila and Corregidor have their VTMS.
“I don't understand why we don't have one here when the center of the shipping industry (in the country) is Cebu,” he said in a command conference yesterday.
Azcuna said the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) is planning to install a VTMS in Cebu City.
In line with this plan, the Japan International Cooperation Agency visited Cebu City about two weeks ago to study the VTMS project.
A VTMS functions like the air traffic control system in airports. It monitors and guides vessels coming in or leaving the port.
Rama said the City Government is willing to extend financial aid for the installation of a VTMS in the city's ports.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 22, 2013.