2Go told to remove wreck

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Thursday, June 5, 2014


CEBU CITY - The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Central Visayas District sent a letter to 2Go Group Inc. informing the latter about the possible threats the wreck of its vessel mv St. Thomas Aquinas poses if it’s not removed.

The vessel sank after colliding with mv Sulpicio Express Siete near the Lawis Ledge off the coast of Talisay City last August 16.

PCG 7 District Commodore William Melad said they received a report from 2Go last May 24 informing them that the vessel posts no danger to marine navigation and may not need to be salvaged.

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According to the firm, the underwater survey conducted by the London Offshore Consultants discovered the vessel intact and not moving.

The firm said a salvage operation is complicated and it will need foreign equipment. But if it has to go through with it, it wants to close the south entrance of the area to sea traffic, Melad said.

PCG Cebu Station Commander Weniel Azcuna, who is in charge of the matter, sent their letter to 2Go as their reply to the firm’s report.

Responsibility

The PCG 7 said the wreck may have little effect on sea traffic at present, but its debris may still pose a danger since the vessel has not been totally stripped.

“As far as the Coast Guard is concerned, you (2Go) must have the responsibility to remove the wreck,” Melad said.

In the letter, Azcuna said hazardous materials and equipment from the vessel may still rise to the surface since the wreck is subject to corrosion and is vulnerable to natural disasters.

The PCG 7, though, pointed out that the threat to the marine environment is minimal.

It noted that the vessel is too large, old and damaged to be re-floated but it believes there are other options to salvage it. The agency told 2Go that risks are always present to divers but standard operations and guidelines will be followed to minimize these.

“The district believes that the benefits of removing the wreck are substantial to ensure navigational, environmental and public safety,” a part of the letter read.

Melad said they’ve asked national headquarters to form a technical working committee to study and review the matter. He said they’ve furnished copies of the letter to the mayors of Cebu City and Cordova and Governor Hilario Davide III.

In another development, Bob Gothong, founder and owner of Gothong Southern, said Thursday he was shocked when he learned that the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has made Protection and Indemnity (P&I) insurance optional to the shipping industry.

Gothong said when it comes to public safety, P&I coverage should not be optional. “In shipping, there is a greater mandate in the community because you are delivering services to the public,” he said.

He said then Marina administrator Ma. Elena Bautista issued a memo making P&I insurance mandatory in 2009. Violators even had their vessels’ certificate of public convenience suspended and were made to pay a fine of P2,000 per gross tonnage.

Public interest

However, Marina 7 Director Nanette Villamor-Denopol said this circular was suspended by then Department of Transportation and Communication secretary Leandro Mendoza because several ship owners complained about the cost, especially since the main insurance firm is based in London, England.

“If P&I insurance is optional, where does public interest come into play? Who will shoulder the wreck removal and sea cleanup if a ship sinks? If they (ship owners and operators) cannot afford to pay the insurance needed, then they should not be in the shipping business,” Gothong said.

Denopol said Gothong Southern, Cokaliong Shipping Lines are among shipping firms that have P&I coverage. “We have no problem with these shipping lines because they are responsible ship owners,” she said.

Gothong said Marina has made compulsory the P100,000 third-party liability insurance per ship passenger to ensure payment if a vessel sinks.

“If Marina is doing it to passengers, why not to other liabilities like wreck removal, sea cleanup during oil spill and programs to protect the environment?” he said.

He said if P&I coverage will remain optional the culprit in a sea mishap will disappear without accountability. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 06, 2014.

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