Whatever happened to...?

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE year is about to end. Almost five months have passed since 2Go’s MV St. Thomas Aquinas sank off the coast of Talisay after colliding with the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp.’s MV Sulpicio Express Siete and more than three months since the Special Board of Marine Inquiry terminated its hearings on the tragedy.

Until now, in typical government (in)action, no one has made public the result of the inquiry or if one has been made. Is there a conscious effort, one is tempted to ask, to ride on the people’s short memory and bury the responsible one’s negligence and/or incompetence along with the vessel?

If so why?

More than a hundred people died in the collision which occurred under ideal (for sailing) weather conditions. Will their families ever see justice and all the victims, including those who survived, closure?

It would have been easier to accept if the ship sank during a storm. Grieving family members would have found consolation in the thought that the tragedy that claimed the lives of their loved ones was an act of God.

But here, we had a situation where the captains of both vessels (I want you to remember their names: Reynan Bermejo of the Aquinas and Rolito Gilo of the Sulpicio Siete) were accusing each other of violating almost every navigation rule in the book!

Okay, I exaggerated. Not every rule was violated, only the most crucial ones. Remember what they claimed?

Bermejo faulted Gilo for occupying the inbound (to Cebu) lane in the vicinity of the Lawis Ledge even if Sulpicio Siete was outbound. He said he made several calls but the outbound vessel stayed on the wrong lane.

In order to avoid a collision he changed course to the left (portside) only to find out that Gilo also changed course to the right (starboard) side. His “vessel was hit at the starboard quarter and sank as a result,” Bermejo declared in his marine protest.

Gilo disputed Bermejo’s account of the incident, claiming that when he saw the Aquinas, she was to the Sulpicio Siete’s left side.

His ship then called Aquinas for port-to-port (left side to left side) passage twice but both calls were met with silence.

“Then, inbound vessel suddenly exhibited green light, impact between our vessel and the other vessel, which turned out to be mv St. Thomas Aquinas, occurred,” Gilo declared in his own marine protest.

It is thus clear that both vessels altered their courses immediately before impact. Whose evasive maneuver caused the collision?

It’s a simple question that should not require months to answer especially for experienced mariners and maritime law experts such as, I presume, the SBMI members. So what has taken them this long to come up with a resolution?

What bothers me is that while the SBMI inquiry remains unresolved, the two captains, at least one of whom must be negligent/incompetent, have not had their license temporarily confiscated and could by now be commanding another or, in the case of Sulpicio, the same vessel.

Why do you think are the police quick in confiscating the licenses of drivers of vehicles involved in a traffic accident? Public safety, that is why.

But maritime officials said that it is not how it is done to ship captains. You don’t treat them like jeepney drivers.

If they say so, then so be it. But the least that we demand of the same officials is to show a certain sense of urgency in resolving the case. Alas, we have not seen that so far. And the year is already ending.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 29, 2013.


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