‘No impact’ from P800 fine, ruling

THE Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina) decision to revoke the Philippine Span Asia Carrier’s authority to transport passengers will have “no impact” on the shipping firm’s operations, a company official said, saying it stopped operating passenger vessels last year yet.

Nestor Ponteres, port captain of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC, formerly Sulpicio Lines Inc.), said yesterday that the company owners and officials decided last year to halt operations of all passenger vessels reportedly due to the high cost of maintenance and operations.

The company is now operating only 15 vessels exclusively for the transport of cargo to different ports of the country, Michael Go of the Philippine Span Asia Carrier’s Cebu office told Sun.Star Cebu.

In a phone interview yesterday, Go declined from making any comment on the Marina order revoking their company’s Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC), saying that they have yet to receive a copy of the ruling.

“We are yet to receive a copy of that decision so until then, we cannot say anything about it,” he said.

Lawyer Manuel Espina, their legal counsel, also declined an interview, saying he is not yet authorized to discuss the matter.

25 years

In a 50-page ruling on the administrative case against Sulpicio Lines, Marina cancelled and revoked the CPC for carriage of passengers that it granted to the firm last May 16, 2005, which was supposed to be effective for 25 years.

The ruling states that its authority to operate two ships, MV Princess of the Earth and MV Princess of the South, 11 ships in the tramping service for the carriage of cargoes and “other ships to be added to its fleet” are limited to cargo operations only.

The decision in the administrative case came almost seven years after the sinking of Sulpicio Line’s MV Princess of the Stars off Sibuyan Island in Romblon Province last June 21, 2008, when parts of the country were battered by typhoon Frank.

Out of the 851 passengers and crew members of the vessel, only 32 survived.

In a radio dyLA report, Ponteres said that the company officials agreed to limit their operations to cargo transport, saying it is more expensive to operate passenger vessels.

Aside from the high cost of fuel and maintenance of their passenger vessels, the company also has to deal with various complaints from passengers whenever an untoward incident happens.

Lower cost

Also, passenger vessels have to sail every day while cargo vessels sail only once a week, which means lower operational costs.
In a news conference yesterday, Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo Labella welcomed Marina’s ruling even if it came seven years after the mishap.

“It’s better late than never. I cannot disagree with that ruling… Tukma ra ang decision,” he said.

Labella, who is a survivor of the sinking of Sulpicio Lines’ Princess of the Orient in 1998, said he believes that Marina cancelled the company’s CPC because of the number of accidents involving its vessels.

Since the sinking of the Doña Paz in December 1987, five vessels of Sulpicio Lines have been involved in sea mishaps. The last one was the sinking of the Sulpicio Express Siete, after it collided with MV St. Thomas Aquinas of the 2Go Group Inc. off Lauis Ledge in Talisay City, Cebu last Aug. 16, 2013.

In the same ruling, Marina dismissed the complaint against the officials and crew members of MV Princess of the Stars, for lack of evidence.

P800 fine

Marina also slapped Span Asia Carrier a fine of P800 for carrying in the vessel 400 boxes of endosulfan, a kind of corrosive substance and a marine pollutant, without a special permit.

Marina ordered the review of Memorandum Circular No. 120, issued in 1997, which was used as basis for the imposition of the P800 fine, since such amount was not sufficient to cover for the damage suffered.

Marina did not give weight to the defense of Span Asia Carrier that the allegedly inaccurate forecast by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) contributed to the list of causes of the sinking of their Cebu-bound ship.

According to Marina, when Pagasa issued an update about the movement and exit of typhoon Frank at 11 p.m. last June 20, 2008, the ship was still in the vicinity of Batangas, “in calmer seas.”

“While there was still an opportunity to seek shelter, it did not. Instead, the ship sailed on,” the ruling signed by Marina Administrator Maximo Mejia Jr. read.

It is not Pagasa’s mandate to prevent ships from plying their route in case of a storm, the ruling read.

Like a father

Frank was forecast to take a west-northwest direction but it tracked west eventually, a deviation found “not so big” by Marina because the ship would still have been affected even if the typhoon followed the forecast track.

“These failures caused the company the lives of the passengers and the cargoes. These failures indicate that respondent (Span Asia Carrier) failed to take the very exacting legal and moral requirement to exercise extraordinary diligence of a good father of a family as it is engaged in public service as a common carrier,” the decision read.

The ruling also highlighted the evaluation report of the Joint Maritime Safety Inspection Committee, which found that Sulpicio Lines’ ships have major deficiencies.

“The report indicates non-compliance of the International Safety Management and is indicative of poor implementation of its safety management system.”

Among these was the lack of compliance with their plans in key shipboard operations, lack of compliance with the company’s requirements to ensure maintenance of the ship equipment, lack of proper documentation related to requisitions on ship safety life-saving appliances and equipment, and the lack of coordination and support between shipboard and shore-based relative to ship safety operations and pollution prevention. (With Virgil Lopez of Sunnex/PNA)
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