A House member is calling for an investigation, in aid of legislation, of the current state of efforts to regulate the inter-island shipping industry in the country in the aftermath of the sinking of the of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas passenger ferry after its collision with the cargo vessel M/V Sulpicio Express Siete somewhere off the coast of Talisay town, Cebu province on August 16.
Rep. Gus Tambunting of the 2nd District of Parañaque City said that the probe he is seeking through House Resolution 22 will review existing practices in ship maintenance, crew training and accreditation, fleet age as well as other factors, for the purpose of coming up with legislative measures to mitigate the occurrence of fatal and environmentally destructive sea disasters.
“We express our deepest sympathies to the victims of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas sinking and to the bereaved families of the fatalities. There must be proper accountability within the government and the inter-island shipping industry to help end this grisly history of tragedies at sea,” Tambunting said.
The first-term solon said the tragic and unnecessary loss of lives, including children and infants, especially among the less fortunate, who are the frequent passenger of inter-island ferries, is deplorable.
Over the years, he said several major sea accidents involving inter-island ferries have been documented, including the worst peace-time shipping disaster in the world—the sinking of the M/V Doña Paz in December of 1987, which killed more than 4,300 persons.
“The almost yearly occurrence of sea accidents involving inter-island shipping companies that operate ferries of various sizes and displacement, which have caused the loss of thousands of lives, as well as severe and long lasting environmental devastation due to the effects of oil spills and the discharge of other noxious chemicals into our seas, calls into question the existing measures to regulate this industry in general and the shipping companies in particular,” Tambunting said.
Despite the series of sea tragedies and the chain of investigations by the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) as well as by the Board of Marine Inquiry, Tambunting said that sea accidents continue to occur when these should have been preventable.
He said the archipelagic nature of the country makes inter-island travel by sea-going ferries the primary mode of transporting people and cargo in the country.
He said the collision of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas passenger ferry and M/V Sulpicio Express Siete happened in a narrow sea-lane, well known to the officers and crew of the vessels who regularly traverse this same route, and where existing protocols are presumed to be already in place to prevent accidents.
Earlier, the province of Cebu declared a state of calamity due to the extreme environmental and health impact of the discharge of fuel, oil and other pollutants in the seas of Cebu as a result of the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas sinking. To date, the accident has killed at least 52 persons, including children and infants, with scores more missing and feared trapped inside the stricken ship, which may add to the death toll. PNA