Taking a severe beating-A A +A
Saturday, August 17, 2013
ACCIDENTS do happen. This one was clearly caused. And whoever is responsible should be severely punished.
Late yesterday morning, the Philippine Coast Guard already confirmed 24 deaths from the collision between the vessels, St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express 7, a few kilometers off the coast of Talisay, about nine o’clock Saturday night. Some 629 have been rescued while 217 were listed as missing. The death count could rise substantially, the PCG feared.
The Aquinas is owned by the 2GO Group, formerly the Negros Navigation until the Chinese government acquired control over it through an equity infusion that financed the company’s purchase of Aboitiz Transport System for US$105 million. The Aquinas is one of the old ATS super ferries that Nenaco renamed after the purchase.
On the other hand, the owner of Sulpicio Express 7 is Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp., which used to be the Sulpicio Lines Inc.
The change of name came at the end of a lengthy suspension by the government of its operations following the Princess of the Stars
sinking at the height of typhoon Frank in 2008. Only 57 survived, 350 bodies were recovered and about 515 were missing in that disaster.
The Aquinas-Sulpicio Express 7 collision couldn’t have come at a worse time for the domestic shipping industry. In his State of the Nation Address last month, President Aquiino called for the repeal of the Cabotage Law and open domestic trade to foreign competition. The call has resonated with local shippers who claim that they continue to suffer from higher costs and inefficient service despite the protectionist government policy that local shipping companies have long been allowed to enjoy.
Already, the international wire reports on the collision have made pointed references to the inadequacies of local shipping. A Reuters dispatch from Cebu yesterday, for example, contained the backgrounder that “(s)cores, sometimes hundreds, of people die each year in ferry accidents in the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,100 islands with a notoriously poor record for maritime safety.
“Overcrowding is common and many of the vessels are in bad condition,” the Reuters report said.
The Associated Press report that same day had the same indicting tone. “Accidents at sea are common in the Philippine archipelago,”
it said, “because of frequent storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations.”
“Notoriously poor record”, “badly maintained boats” and “weak enforcement” are words that are going to be repeated in the next few weeks.
Unfortunately for Philippine Span Asia, its history, ok, Sulpicio’s history, of involvement in maritime disasters will also have to be dug up.
In fact, references to the Doña Paz and the Princess of the Stars tragedies were made by AP in its report. The Doña Paz collided with a fuel tanker in 1987, killing 4,341 in what is said to be the world’s worst peacetime accident at sea. Both vessels were owned by Sulpicio Lines.
Reuters adverted to Sulpicio’s not-so-sterling safety record right in the lead paragraph of its report, stating the “ferry sank after colliding with a container ship owned by a company involved in the world’s worst peacetime disaster.” The Doña Paz tragedy was also mentioned by the wire agency in the same report.
There is a rule in evidence that says that the fact that one did or failed to do something at one time will not prove that he did or failed to do the same thing at some other time. The rule, however, has exceptions. Whether the rule or the exception applies in the recent collision, whether it was the ferry or the tanker that was fault, we will not know until after an investigation.
But one thing is certain: the domestic shipping industry has just taken another severe beating.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 18, 2013.