Demand for justice-A A +A
Friday, August 23, 2013
AS OF yesterday, 75 people have been declared dead and 45 remain missing as a result of the sinking of M/V St Thomas Aquinas following a collision with M/V Sulpicio Express Siete. Neither of the captains of the two vessels admitted fault, pointing instead to the other for the tragedy. We shall have to wait for the Board of Marine Inquiry for its findings.
On the other hand, some legislators have called for a congressional investigation to prevent similar accidents in the future.
While the administrative processes takes its course, those who have lost loved ones can never find closure until either one of the two masters of vessel is penalized not just administratively but, more importantly, criminally.
I remember Edmund Garcia, who worked with me in the Cebu Human Rights Alliance way back. Some members of his family traveled to Manila from Leyte aboard Doña Paz in December 1987.
They died when the passenger vessel collided with MT Vector. They were among the 4,375 people killed in the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history. (The RMS Titanic sinking resulted in deaths of over 1,500.)
So frustrated was Edmund of the slow turn of the wheels of justice that he enrolled in a law course and hurdled the bar. I do not know if, as a lawyer, he obtained the justice he sought for his family.
Sulpicio Lines was cleared of fault, though based on initial investigation only one apprentice was monitoring the bridge when the tragedy struck. The Philippine Coast Guard found out that officers were either drinking beer or watching television, while the captain was watching a movie on his Betamax.
MT Vector was held liable for the collision for it operated “without a license,
lookout or properly qualified master.” It would certainly be interesting to know whether any of the captains of the ships involved ever went to jail.
In New Zealand, one of the worst maritime environmental disasters was caused by the grounding of MV Rena on Astrolabe Reef off the coast of Tauranga. The ship officers, Captain Mauro Balomaga and Leonil Relon, both Filipinos, pleaded guilty to the charges under the Resource Management Act, including being the master of a ship from which harmful substances or contaminants were discharged into the coastal marine area, willfully attempting to pervert the course of justice, and altering ship documents.
The charges they faced carried a maximum penalty of up to seven year of jail time. But the leniency of the New Zealand justice system allowed them to return to the Philippines after serving seven months in jail in the Waikeria Prison.
A local newspaper Wairarapa Times, asked the question, “Not much of a punishment is it, really?” It was reported that the clean-up has cost more than $38.9 million.
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby suggested that the Filipino pair should never be put in charge of a marine vessel again.
We grieve for those who have died in the recent maritime tragedy. We pray for the families who have lost their loved ones. We ask that the investigating bodies fast-track the process to identify the culprits. We demand for justice for the dead and other victims.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 24, 2013.