2Go, Sulpicio ships in Cebu collision erred

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

ONE OF 3 CALAMITIES LAST YEAR IN CEBU. The bow or front of the Sulpicio Express 7 bored a hole in the starboard or right side of the St. Thomas Aquinas when the vessels collided off Talisay City last August 16, 2013, the Board of Marine Inquiry said. The collision was the biggest story of that week and prompted the Province of Cebu to declare a state of calamity. The Aquinas vessel sank. (Sun.Star file)


CEBU – Individuals who manned the two ships that collided near Talisay City a year ago made mistakes that led to the accident, government investigators said.

However, the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) mentioned no penalties in its decision, because its role is only to recommend measures so that such accidents aren’t repeated.

At 8:45 p.m. last August 16, 2013, the passenger-cargo vessel M/V St. Thomas Aquinas and M/V Sulpicio Express 7 collided near Lawis Ledge off Talisay City.

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Although 733 survived, at least 116 passengers and crew died, and 21 others remain missing, more than a year after the collision.

The accident also pointed to the need for “immediate attention and action”, such as the installation of “danger marks” in the Cebu-Mactan Channel, the BMI’s report said.

It pointed out that a Vessel Traffic System isn’t expected until 2016 yet.

Oil that spilled from the Aquinas, which sank shortly after the collision, has also damaged mangroves and impaired fishing in Cordova town, whose officials recently went to court to ask for compensation.

Crossing

The BMI based its decision, dated July 3, 2014, on the investigation reports submitted by the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) 7 Enforcement Office. The SBMI and Marina conducted separate investigations in Cebu City after the collision.

Nestor Ponteres of the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., which owns the Sulpicio Express 7, said that only the legal department of their company could comment on the decision.

The 2Go Group’s management could not be contacted for comment Saturday.

According to the BMI’s decision, the collision would not have occurred if the master of the Aquinas had recognized that a “crossing situation” had developed.

Under the rules, the BMI said, the Aquinas should have given way, while the Sulpicio Express 7 should have kept its course.

“Adverse consequences associated with the collision would probably not have occurred or have been as serious, if both vessels had reduced speed, thus limiting the damage to both ships,” the BMI also said.

Communication

Captain Rolito Gilo served as skipper of the Sulpicio vessel, while Captain Reynan Bermejo was the master of the St. Thomas Aquinas.

The Aquinas was on its way to Cebu from Nasipit, Agusan del Norte and moving at 16 knots when the accident happened.

The Sulpicio Express 7 was leaving Cebu’s port on its way for Davao City. Its speed was approximately nine knots.

While the master of the Aquinas failed to give way, the BMI report said, the Sulpicio skipper also should have done two things consistent with the rules.

He should have observed if the other vessel was taking the correct action and, “if it become apparent that the give-way vessel (the Aquinas) was not taking appropriate action”, the Sulpicio vessel should have taken action to avoid a collision, the investigators said in the decision.

The BMI also pointed to a failure of communication between the two vessels. It said that Sulpicio was using a VHF (very high frequency) radio, “which is not the proper and recommended means of communicating with vessels, more so, in restricted channels.”

Signals

The decision said that using VHF radios “actually distracts bridge personnel who should be focused on doing their respective roles.” Instead, the crew should have used light and sound signals.

“As the vessels progressively approached each other, there was no bridge communication that could have allowed continuous exchange of intentions and actions. Instead, the vessels relied on the electronic representations of relative movements as well as perceptions on the aspect of how each vessel looked at each other through display of lights,” said the BMI.

Their lookouts were also insufficient, and their data, at least in Sulpicio’s case, poorly recorded, the decision added.

The BMI decision was signed by Rear Admiral Luis Tuazon Jr. as chair; Rear Admiral Benjamin Mata as vice chair; and members Lt. Commander Lazaro Ernesto Valdez, Capt. Simeon Balita, Capt. Reynando Tomampo and Chief Engineer Rodelio Lagat.

Investigators were guided by the Casualty Investigation Code adopted by the International Maritime Organization last May 16, 2008. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 31, 2014.

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