Crash probe’s deadline set-A A +A
Monday, August 26, 2013
ON THE third day of its investigation, the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) found inconsistencies in the accounts about the collision of the St. Thomas Aquinas passenger ferry and the Sulpicio Express Siete cargo vessel.
The SBMI decided to summon other parties to help sort out the testimonies, including officers of the Oceanjet fast ferry that passed by Lauis Ledge about 15 minutes after the collision.
Commodore Gilbert Rueras, the SBMI chairman, said that so far, they have heard 25 witnesses, including the crew, survivors and radio communications officers of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).
“After three days (of conducting the investigation), we now have a clearer view of what really happened,” Rueras said.
But “there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of some witnesses, that’s why we invited the others who may know about the accident to corroborate them,” Rueras said.
The PCG has told the SBMI to finish its investigation within two weeks.
The accident killed at least 81, with 39 others still missing. About 750 survived.
In yesterday’s hearing, SW1 Fritzie Pun-an told the SBMI that she heard from the station’s base radio that M/V Sulpicio Express Siete called the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas.
The cargo vessel’s officers asked for a port-to-port maneuver, which meant that each vessel would pass with its port or left side facing the other ship.
“Hindi ko narinig kasi maraming interference (I didn’t hear because there was so much interference),” Pun-an said when asked if the Aquinas also tried to call the Sulpicio Express Siete.
Pun-an was on gangway watch in the Cebu Coast Guard Station when the collision occurred on the night of Aug. 16 near Lauis Ledge.
Pun-an said she heard the call from Sulpicio on channel 16, which is used to call up ships and shore stations, aside from serving as an international distress frequency.
Before the five-man panel, Pun-an narrated she heard the collision at 8:45 p.m. when Sulpicio radioed on channel 16.
“This is M/V Sulpicio Express Siete. We collided with M/V St. Thomas Aquinas,” she said, when asked what the exact words were.
Pun-an said she heard the message once and immediately informed the Coast Guard’s operations department to call the command office.
Before the collision, she also heard M/V Trans Asia 9 call up Sulpicio at 8:30 p.m. to say that they would overtake.
The two ships then switched to channel 12 in order to focus on their plan and not be disturbed on Channel 16, where there was civilian interference.
Before Pun-an, four members of Sulpicio also faced the panel.
Two of them, when asked by the panel, insisted they changed the channel from 12 to 16 following reports that miscommunication might have caused the accident.
Quarter master Germaine De Lima came in first and said they changed the channel after Trans Asia overtook their vessel. They were running at eight knots and didn’t expect their ship would collide with the Aquinas.
However, Arnie Santiago, chief of the Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina) Enforcement Office, said that Sulpicio and Trans Asia should have used a whistle instead of communicating through radio when overtaking, as that violates the rules.
“Yes, sir, mali ang ginawa nilang dalawa (Yes, sir, what they did was wrong),” De Lima said.
Santiago also pointed out the captain of Sulpicio should have done something before the impact.
Under the rules, the vessel should have issued five short, rapid blasts on a whistle.
After De Lima, Jov Samoya, one of the apprentice mates, testified before the SBMI.
He was at the bridge at that time when they saw Aquinas’ lights, he said. They called the vessel twice, but got no response.
“I just heard the captain say, ‘Oh, my God. Jesus Christ’,” Samoya said.
Samoya, when asked by the board, also said they had changed the channel from 12 to 16.
The other two witnesses were apprentice mate Angelou Jay Pastoril and third engineer Alberto Ordinal.
Rueras again clarified the SBMI is not looking to identify whoever is liable, but to find out what can be done to make maritime traffic safer.
Yet once the final SBMI investigation result becomes a public document, it can be used by any interested party, such as the survivors or the families of those who died in the accident.
The SBMI is composed of Rueras as chairman; Lt. Johonsan Fablante as member for law;
Capt. Nestor Perrero as master mariner; Engineer Waulthrudt Tanamor as chief engineer; and Santiago of Marina.
Marina can also use the SBMI report in its separate administrative inquiry, to determine which maritime laws were violated and by whom.
Marina will hold its hearing on the collision at 10 a.m. on Aug. 28 at its regional office in the North Reclamation Area, Cebu City.
Before the SBMI adjourned yesterday, Lt. Fablante ordered Port Capt. Nestor Ponteres of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. to submit to the board the engine logbook of the Sulpicio Express Siete.
Fablante also directed Ponteres to submit the vessel’s testing and maintenance logbook of steering gear, steering gear test procedure, manual for steering gear, copies of testing records of radio and VHF radio, Jaero error log, and the certificate of the licenses of radio and radar.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 26, 2013.