THE Department of Justice (DOJ) turned down Monday the appeal of the owner of the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars to withdraw the criminal information against him in connection with the sea tragedy two years ago off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province.

In a resolution, Justice Secretary Alberto Agra affirmed the special panel of prosecutors’ ruling dated June 22, 2009 that found probable cause to charge respondents Edgar Go, vice president for administration of ship operator of Sulpicio Lines Inc., and missing ship captain Florencio Morimon Sr. for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, physical injuries and damage to property.

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Charges have been filed before the Manila Regional Trial Court last year even though Go had filed a petition for review before the Office of the DOJ Secretary.

The passenger vessel capsized then sank at the height of Typhoon Frank in June 21, 2008, leaving over 800 passengers and crew members either dead or missing. The incident is considered one of the worst disasters in world history.

According to Agra, the shipping line is liable for not taking precautionary measures to prevent the tragedy from taking place.

“The ship could have returned to Manila or docked at the nearest post. It was the lone ship travelling through the sea at that time,” he said.

In its 48-page resolution last June 2009, the panel of prosecutors that investigated the case recommended the filing of charges against respondents Go and Morimon, who remained missing to this day.

The panel recommended bail in the amount of P320,000 bail each.

But the panel dismissed similar charges against Sulpicio president Enrique Go; executive vice-president and chief executive officer Carlos Go; senior vice president and secretary, Victoriano Go; and first vice president Dominador Go.

Senior State Prosecutor Emilia Victorio, head of the prosecution panel, said Morimon is still considered a respondent and is liable for the losses since no certification of his death has been submitted to the panel.

The panel held that Morimon, as a master of the vessel, demonstrated his negligence by his lack of foresight and precaution in observing the rules of good seamanship when he departed from the Port of Manila despite the storm.

Morimon’s decision to proceed with the voyage despite of the bad weather, according to the panel showed his “extreme lack of precaution” that ended the ship moving directly moving into the eye of the typhoon.

His liability was further bolstered when records showed that the Princess of the Stars was the only vessel that proceeded on its voyage and di not take shelter after the weather bulletin was issued by Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) around 11 p.m. of June 20, 2008.

The panel gave credence to the testimonies of survivors Francisco Batula and Gerardo Pelimer who said there was no departure video shown on board; they were neither apprised of the vessel’s safety features, tools and equipment, nor of safety procedures to be observed in case of emergency; and that the crew did not help or assist the passengers to safety.

“But these were never done, causing terror, panic and chaos as the passengers aimlessly raced up with each other for survival, only to be trapped inside the accommodation decks. As per record, out of 849 persons onboard the vessel, only 32 reportedly survived,” said the DOJ.

On the other hand, Edgar Go, as responsible for vessel operations, movement and safety, failed to prevent the ship to depart from the port of Manila despite the severe weather condition, considering the route and places where the vessel was sailing was already declared under typhoon signal number 3.

The panel said Edgar failed to give orders to drop anchor or take refuge for temporary shelter for the ship.

The resolution further stated that preliminary investigation will be conducted against Captain Benjamin Eugenio, Captain Nestor Ponteres, Engineer Ernelson Morales, all of Sulpicio Lines Inc., and Police Officer 1 Felix Rizaldy Sardan of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Although they were not impleaded as respondents, the panel said it was apparent that they have direct participation in allowing the vessels to navigate despite of bad weather condition. (JCV/Sunnex)