‘Noise’ a factor in ships’ crash-A A +A
Saturday, August 24, 2013
CEBU CITY -- Officers of the two ships that collided near Cebu last Aug. 16 used different radio channels, which kept them from communicating clearly, a factor that might have contributed to the accident.
Rescue operations immediately after the collision were also hampered, a Coast Guard official said, because of civilian interference in Channel 16, which is supposed to be used for distress signals.
A control tower, which will monitor and regulate the traffic of vessels in the strait, could prevent similar accidents, Cebu Coast Guard Station Commander Weniel Azcuna told the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SMBI) when it began its hearings Friday.
The SBMI summoned Azcuna first, followed by ship captains Reynan Bermejo of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas and Rolito Gilo of the M/V Sulpicio Express Siete.
The death toll from the accident rose to 80 on Friday, with 40 still missing. At least 750 survived.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Central Visayas has suspended from duty the captains and crew of both vessels, pending SBMI’s investigation.
The first day established that communication problems were encountered before the accident.
Both captains said everything happened so fast, there was no time to evade the oncoming ship.
The panel is composed of Commodore Gilbert Rueras of the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) Maritime Safety Services Command; Lieutenant Johonsan Fabilane of the PCG; Arnie Santiago, head of Marina’s enforcement office; Captain Nestor Perrero, master mariner; and Engr. Waulthurd Tañamor of the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The hearing took place in the PCG-Cebu Office on C. Arellano Blvd., Cebu City.
Before the inquiry started, Rueras said they wanted to see if the captains observed the protocols on sea travel and regulations of the shipping companies.
He said they hoped to finish in two weeks.
Azcuna, the first resource person, said the Cebu Coast Guard Station received a distress call from the Aquinas at 9:03 p.m. (The M/V St. Thomas Aquinas belongs to 2GO Shipping.)
Azcuna said he immediately dispatched his personnel and was informed that half-conscious survivors were seen when the rescuers arrived near the Lauis Ledge lighthouse.
He called the Coast Guard Auxiliary to ask for available medical personnel, but the ship sank off before the team arrived.
Azcuna said they had a hard time communicating in Channel 16, which is used as an international distress frequency, because civilians were interfering in it.
Reynan Bermejo, captain of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas, was the second resource person invited by SBMI.
“The inbound lane was supposed to be my lane,” Bermejo told the SBMI. He said he has been handling the Aquinas for 11 months.
When he saw on the radar that the cargo vessel was occupying his lane, Bermejo said, he communicated with the captain of Sulpicio, through Channel 16, several times but received no response.
The Sulpicio cargo vessel came from Pier 5 and was on its regular voyage bound for Davao and General Santos cities.
“I told them, ‘Vessel outbound, this is passenger vessel entering inbound.’ We called out through the radio. I kept on calling but there was no response from the target,” he said.
Bermejo said he was forced to alter the course of the Aquinas, which was traveling at 15 knots, to hard port (left side).
At that point, they were just a mile away or about four minutes from the Sulpicio vessel.
Then, Sulpicio turned left as well, Bermejo said.
He said the starboard quarter of the Aquinas, particularly the shop room, was then hit by the cargo vessel.
Asked by the SBMI if he reduced speed before the collision, Bermejo said he could no longer slow down. It would have taken at least eight minutes to completely stop the vessel’s propeller.
Asked if he looked for other means to communicate with Sulpicio when they did not respond to repeated calls, Bermejo said he was not able to do so.
The SBMI also asked if there was radio interference from other boats when he tried to contact Sulpicio.
“Yes, but that is normal here in Cebu,” he said.
SBMI then said that Channel 16 in Cebu might not be reliable.
After the lunch break, Rolito Gilo, captain of M/V Sulpicio Express Siete, had his turn.
Gilo told the board he sighted the passenger ship while it was still two nautical miles away and contacted them several times, but got no response.
He said the collision would not have happened if Aquinas didn’t shift course and had stayed on the inbound lane.
It was only when they were 0.5 miles away from Aquinas that he realized a collision was imminent.
“I just...Jesus Christ,” Gilo said.
After the collision, he ordered his men to stop the engine, turned on the general alarm and called “Mayday” three times. He also instructed his crew to assist the survivors.
Gilo said they were running at 7 to 8 knots.
Before the accident happened, the Cagayan de Oro-bound M/V Trans Asia 9 overtook the cargo vessel.
Gilo said they changed the radio frequency to 12 from 16 after Trans Asia requested it, to avoid disrupting the channel.
Santiago of Marina-Central Visayas pointed out both ships should have used whistles instead of radio communication, because this is a violation of maritime law.
The SBMI repeatedly asked Gilo why there was no communication between them and Aquinas.
After the two captains, Galipher Ian Faller, skipper of the M/V Trans Asia 9, faced the panel as the fourth resource person.
He said Sulpicio was already in the inbound lane as they were overtaking it on the starboard (right) side.
Faller said he later heard a distress call on channel 12 after they overtook.
“I was on stand-by in case they needed help, but didn’t hear any more. It was just silence,” he said.
It was only when they were 5.6 nautical miles from Lauis Ledge that Faller realized the two ships had collided.
He said he couldn’t go back because it was difficult to maneuver and the ship would have run aground, hit the Sulpicio vessel or survivors in the water. (With Princess H. Felicitas/Sun.Star Cebu)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 24, 2013.